Learning Tech, Scot-Free

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 2, 2005; 9:24 AM

One of the more questionable rewards of writing a column about technology and life is the inevitable e-mail discussion with various readers about ... you guessed it, socialism.

I'm an armchair political philosopher at best, so my contributions to this topic are shot firmly from the hip. But talking socialism with readers is unavoidable when I happen on stories like the ones I'm about to share.

The BBC on Monday reported that Scotland is offering 100 pounds -- a little more than $175 -- to every adult in the land to develop and improve their computer skills.

(Sounds like the time is right for me to re-explore my Scottish heritage. I could use $175 even on my most flush days.)

The Scottish Executive already offered some low-income or unemployed residents 220 pounds ($390) to pay for a year of coursework to get them back into the workforce, the BBC reported, but this extension will be available to everyone in Scotland over the age of 18.

Here's more: "Deputy Minister for Lifelong Learning Allan Wilson said: 'ILA Scotland has already opened up opportunities for thousands of people on lower incomes who previously would have faced financial barriers to learning. ... We have chosen information and communications technology (ICT) training for the universal offer because learner research showed us that even where people might consider themselves to have basic ICT skills, relatively few have any formal qualifications as proof of their expertise.'"

I enjoy dredging up stories like this one because it drives so many people nuts to read that a government somewhere out there is collecting taxes at a breakneck pace and doling them out in equal measure to the disadvantaged or the just plain indigent.

I can't say whether Scotland is pursuing the right policy, but I can offer an interesting example of what happens when you equip the wrong people with the right technology. Once again, from Scotland:

"More than 100 Scottish school pupils will fail crucial exams this year because they took mobile phones into examination halls across the country," reported Scotland on Sunday's Arthur MacMillan (no relation). "Figures obtained by Scotland on Sunday show that despite repeated attempts by exam bosses to clamp down on the use of phones and electronic devices, some students have broken the rules. A further 41 school pupils face failing their exams because they plagiarised the work of other students and authors."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority said that most of the 109 allegations of abuse did not involve direct attempts to cheat, but the students will be disqualified anyway, the paper reported.

"The SQA's exams guide specifically prohibits mobile and WAP-enabled phones from being taken into examination halls because they can be used to store and retrieve information relating to questions in exam papers," MacMillan reported. "The rules state: 'If you are found in possession of a mobile phone or any other electronic device, or if you take this equipment into the room and it beeps or rings, your examination entry will be cancelled.'"

Now don't make me have to say it in Gaelic!


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