Hi-tech beats the personal touch in language lessons

Hi-tech innovations will be used to boost language skills
Hi-tech innovations will be used to boost language skills

It was man against the machine in a council classroom row.

Councillors voted against spending £64,000 a year hiring modern language assistants when they met.

Instead Falkirk Council’s education committee backed plans to continue to use the latest information and communications technology to help pupils learn a foreign language.

But the decision did not win impress SNP councillors who claimed that while technology has its place, there is no substitute for human contact.

The committee was told the council had phased out assistants as part of budget cuts in 2010.

Since then ICT aids including specialised microphones and hand-held video players have been used. Experts claim they are popular with youngsters and help build their confidence.

It heard the the cost of reinstating language assistants would be around £8000 per school.

Nigel Fletcher, head of educational support, said: “In normal financial circumstances the use of foreign language assistants may be a desirable asset for a language department to enhance cultural links, but there is no evidence to suggest the use of this resource improves attainment or uptake of a modern language. Very few authorities around the country use them. Our schools are increasingly using ICT devices and the view of teachers and pupils is they are of value.”

The committee backed director of education Andrew Sutherland’s recommendation to invest more in ICT as funding allows by eight votes to five.

SNP education spokesman Councillor Gordon Hughes said: “Language assistants have not only been a long-standing asset to pupils learning modern languages from native speakers but also a unique opportunity to assist the development of our own language teachers. Computers can only take you so far. Technology has its place, but it is no substitute for human contact.”

Councillor David Alexander said: “The department has underspent by over £1 million so the resources are there. The report is one-sided and there is not sufficient information for a balanced decision to be taken.”

Committee convener Councillor Alan Nimmo said: “We are focusing our resources on a more dynamic form of learning. There’s no evidence to support the idea the re-introduction of foreign language assistants would improve attainment or uptake of modern languages in our schools.”

Mr Sutherland, said: “Personal interaction is the role of the teacher and computers will never replace that, but in the current financial world we have to decide what is desirable and what is essential.”