EVERY school in Scotland is to be given free online access to the Encyclopaedia Britannica as its publisher aims to take on the might of websites such as Wikipedia.
The Encyclopaedia, which was founded in Edinburgh in 1768 and stopped producing a print edition in March, hopes to engage with a new generation of readers as the internet takes an ever-increasing role in school education.
From today, every primary and secondary school in the country will have access to the Britannica Online School Edition, which the publisher said would prevent children coming into contact with “inappropriate or factually inaccurate material” on the internet.
The growing role of computers and tablets such as the iPad in schools means more and more homework and research is done using websites.
Ian Grant, managing director of Encyclopaedia Britannica UK, said: “Britannica holds a special place in Scottish history and education and we’re extremely proud to be returning to our roots and inspiring a new generation of learners, nearly 250 years after we started.
“Our ideals of providing clear, current and correct educational information were inspired by our Scottish founders and remain in place today. And by bringing Britannica home, we want to invite Scottish learners, be they student, parent, or teacher, to rediscover Britannica in the 21st century.”
Born out of the Scottish Englightenment, the Encyclopaedia Brtiannica is the world’s oldest English language encyclopedia.
However, its publishers announced earlier this year that future updates would only appear online after the print edition became another victim of the internet’s seemingly limitless expansion.
While Wikipedia claims to contain more than four million articles in English alone and is now the most popular reference site on the internet, there have long been concerns over accuracy as anyone can edit its pages.
However, a 2005 study by the scientific journal Nature found that when it came to articles on science, there was little difference in accuracy between Wikipedia and Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica said its school edition had been created to ensure that pupils could carry out research online safely.
The tool is split into three distinct age groups, with every reference article checked by a team of editors.
The service also provides live training sessions, a dedicated teacher support area and pre-created learning materials which can be used in the classroom with existing technology.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, the country’s second largest teaching union, said there were difficulties associated with too much online research using basic internet searches.
She said: “The problem with online is that people think that everything is true. For many children, if they read 1+2=4 on the internet then they will believe that.
“Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for young people to be able to differentiate between what’s accurate and what’s false.
“Schools spend a great deal of time teaching kids to look carefully, but I don’t know if that always gets across.”