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Education minister slammed for promoting Wikipedia

UK education secretary Alan Johnson has been criticised for suggesting that students use Wikipedia for homework - but I think he's on to something.

Speaking in Belfast at the annual conference of NASWUT (the National Association of Schoolteachers and Union of Women Teachers), Mr Johnson - who's clearly never spent time on YouTube or got an online gambling account - described the internet as an "incredible force for good in education".

"Wikipedia enables anybody to access information which was once the preserve of those who could afford the subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica," he said. (Not realising that subscribers to the DVD issue of PC Advisor get Britannica gratis.)

"Modern technology enables a whole range of educational tools to be used by pupils, teachers and schools," he added.

But teachers immediately began lobbing blackboard dusters in Mr Johnson's direction, concerned about the, er, integrity of Wikipedia. (I suspect that the good people of Encyclopedia Britannica weren't entirely chuffed with the comparison, either.)

Aware that her own Wikipedia entry was being rewritten as she spoke, the general secretary of the NASWUT, Chris Keates, said she wouldn't recommend it to children as their sole source of information, although she conceded that Wikipedia is a popular source.

For the uninitiated, Wikipedia is among the top 10 most visited sites on the internet. It launched in 2001 and, crucially, is written by volunteers. Anyone can edit or add to entries. In January, the site had roughly 7m entries, in 251 languages.

It's a fabulously diverse and entertaining source of information, and a great way to settle pub arguments, but it's fair to say that PHD students get their information elsewhere (even those at Humberside University *).

But I think the critics are being unfair on My Johnson. I know teachers (no, I'm not still at school), and they often moan about how dull marking is. So let the kids 'research' on Wikipedia, and let the teachers enjoy entertaining, if factually incorrect, homework.

* Stealing my bin doesn't seem so clever now, does it?

More here: Founder slams Wikipedia as 'broken beyond repair'

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