HC Deb 21 February 1963 vol 672 cc618-9
16. Mr. Sydney Irving

asked the Minister of Education if he will undertake an investigation into the value of teaching machines for routine factual teaching by encouraging a number of pilot schemes to enable an assessment to be made both of their educational and economic practicability.

The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I am already financing two research projects concerned with programmed learning and teaching machines, and a number of local education authorities are mounting controlled experiments.

Mr. Irving

I agree that we are only at the beginning of a development the ultimate possibilities of which we cannot perceive, but does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that these machines have a greater potentiality than is justified by the amount of financial support he has given to these propositions up to date? Will he take a vigorous initiative to stimulate the development of these machines, which could facilitate learning and alleviate the situation caused by the acute shortage of teachers? Will he, above all, give encouragement and support to the British efforts in this field?

Sir E. Boyle

I agree entirely that this is an important development. I am sure it has come to stay. The research projects are being carried out at the moment under the auspices of Sheffield and Leicester Universities, and I am at present considering an application for a grant towards a third project at Birmingham University. I hope shortly to circulate to education authorities and others a summary of the returns that I received at the end of last year about the use they were making, or planning to make, of programmed learning and teaching machines, with a statement of my own views and those of my Ministry. I will send the hon. Member a copy when I do so.

Mrs. White

In order to speed up this research, which is very important, has the right hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of buying various prototype machines and lending them to education authorities so that they could carry out many more controlled experiments than are now being undertaken?

Sir E. Boyle

I will certainly consider what the hon. Lady suggests. My own feeling is that the need at present may be less for more formal research, or for not much more formal research, than for wholesale experiment. From that would come the hypothesis needed as a basis for research. I will certainly consider what the hon. Lady has suggested.