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The social, economic, ethical and moral issues.

Each new development in information technology raises new social, economic, ethical and moral issues. You need to be able to define the difference between the social aspects, the economic aspects, the ethical aspects and the moral aspects. We suggest that the moral issues relate to the right and wrongs based upon humanist or religious beliefs - ethical issues are those based upon the mores of the time and are reflected in rules, regulations and codes of practice.

Studying historical events can help us understand the changes we are living through. The previous introduction of aspects of information technology should be considered to help our understanding of the implications of change. For example, the availability, the acceptance and the eventual introduction of calculators into the school curriculum illustrates the social changes that occur; there are also economic and moral issues relating to equality of opportunity.

The current use of a form of information technology may have accepted social, economic, ethical and moral implications; however, the use of information may pose a threat to the welfare of a group within society or the same technology may be used differently or more extensively to create different social, economic, ethical or moral issues.

Information and communications technology implementation.

The following examples of the implementation illustrate the pervasive nature of information technology. The scenarios can be described and the pupils asked to analyse them by considering the general questions relating to the social, economic, ethical and moral issues.

What are the social advantages and the social disadvantages to the general public, the authorities, employees and employers, the commercial world and minority groups? The interests of the elderly, ethnic minorities, single families, the unemployed, vegetarians, those with serious or long term illness, those with learning difficulties etc. may be considered. The economic advantages and disadvantages should also be considered. The ethical issues are identified by considering the law, codes of conduct, rules and regulations that may be effected by the introduction of a particular information technology facility. The moral issues may be teased out by asking: is it right? what is wrong about it? This area is the most prone to personal interest and bias. The aim of the exercise is to enable pupils to express a position based upon their own values and not to prescribe particular point of view.

The Point of Sale Terminal (POS)

The success of the supermarket culture in part relates to our use of motor vehicles. However, the use of computers in many areas of operation, including the point of sale, has added to supermarket efficiency and therefore success. The pupils could compare the use of ICT by the supermarket compared with that of the Corner shop. Even in the local village shop computerisation of the till and ordering from wholesalers takes place. Aspects of handling information - stock control enabling stores not to run out of products, being more able to see trends in sales and use that data to predict future sales (modelling). By linking that data with the advertising strategies supermarkets are able to both predict and manipulate sales levels of a range of products. Supermarkets use a ever-widening range of communicating information software to advertise their messages including desktop publishing printed material, multimedia on television and the internet.


The Automatic Telling Machine (ATM)

Banking services are aimed at those members in society that have a regular disposable income. They have, over the past 30 years, become more customer friendly and have widened their scope to a range of payments and other money services. These services are not available to people who do not have access to town centres. The services do not involve contact with people - some customers are less happy about dealing solely with a machine. What are the implications of tele-banking and internet banking?

The Local Area Network (LAN)

Stand alone microcomputers can be used to support many administrative tasks. However, their potential value is greatly enhanced if they are linked with other computers on the same site. Employees are able to communicate immediately in electronic form. There is a reduced need to pass paper around and between offices. The unnecessary re-typing of information is eliminated. Networks enable two or more people to work on the same documents or files. There are disadvantages associated with networks: steps have to be taken to protect data from loss and misuse, dependence on a single machine (server), slower access and processing speeds. Pupils should consider the issues that relate to a commercial setting (e.g. the school office) and a whole school network of the curriculum machines.

The Internet

Using conventional telephone lines personal computers can be linked to large mainframe computers which in turn link to other computers around the world. To access the internet a user needs a computer with a modem which plugs into a telephone socket. The user also needs to subscribe to an internet provider. Most internet providers give full access to all other computers on the internet. The internet is international, it has no formal policing and can be used to communicate material that some people may find offensive or even illegal.

The Smart Card

The smart card is a credit card sized device with a micro chip which can contain a large amount of information. The information on the card can be read or changed by a computer. A smart card could be used in a variety of ways: credit card that keeps a record of the amount of money the owner has remaining, an identity card containing much more information that could be printed on the face of the card, a medical warning card,

Hypothetical Scenarios

The following scenarios can be used as the basis of discussion or investigation; they are hypothetical but lead the pupils into a range of topic areas that have social, economical, ethical and moral implications.


DIFD is an automatic detection of road speed, identification of the car registration, fining the car owner and debiting the bank account of the owner. Detection, Identification, Fining and Debiting systems could eliminate much of the time wasting and money consuming bureaucracy surrounding magistrates courts. The system would be simple to implement and be effective because the punishment would be immediate and targeted on the owner of the miscreant vehicle.


The totally automatic tube train system with no drivers present. The trains would run to predetermined timetables. Track control would ensure that safety margins between rolling stock was maintained. Doors would automatically open and close with sensors detecting the presence of passengers. Fire protection services would be controlled by a range of sensors with automatic alarms, fire extinguishers and section isolation. The use of CCTV which would be automatically triggered if the emergency bar, which passes along the platform and all subways, was pressed would ensure passenger safety from muggers.

Possible written assessment tasks:

A context for discussion.

A park ranger (David) has recently retired from work at an English Nature SSI in the Beacon Hills at the age of 58. Now at home all day, hobbies and interests are important. His elderly mother (Catherine), who suffers from a heart condition, lives 10 miles away in a small village. His grandchildren (Mattie and Becky) attend Roxborough School and have access to a range of computers; they also have a computer at home.

These notes are useful starting points for discussions and factual lessons. Pupils need to be able to discuss the social, economic, ethical and moral aspects of information technology. That discussion should be based upon as wide experience and knowledge of information and communication systems. These discussions can be placed in core ICT lessons or PSHE sessions. Both give an entitlement to all pupils. In primary schools circle time, school assemblies and whole class presentations can provide opportunities for introducing these issues at the appropriate level.

Prepared by John Woollard

Discussion National Curriculum 14/09/02