Relatively small and less developed countries like Portugal offer an interesting ground for observing the dissemination of computers in education.
The Portuguese Physical, Chemical and Mathematical Societies have set up in 1991 a common action for creating, producing and distributing software for learning Science and Mathematics, especially at the middle and high schools levels. The action is called "Softsciences", with the obvious intention of making somewhat "softer" the learning of the so-called "hard" sciences. The Ministry for Education and the new Ministry for Science and Technology have been supporting our program.
The action started from the conclusions of the First Portuguese Meeting on "Computers for Chemistry and Physics Teaching", at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, which gathered in 1990 hundreds of teachers. That meeting has benefited from the presence of leading international experts (Edward Redish - Maryland, Joshua Schwartz - Harvard, and Daniel Cabrol - Nice, France). Since then, more than twenty educational programs on Physics, Chemistry an Mathematics have been produced and widely distributed in schools.
The pedagogic and scientific quality of the programs has been assured by peer review. All of them are in agreement with the recent curricula, although some have a broader scope, trying for instance to develop the layman's interest in science. Around a dozen university and high school teachers and many students strove to work in the project.
Some of the most interesting application of computer in science teaching have been developed for collage teaching, mainly for freshman (Ref 1 and Ref 2). We invested in producing software for high schools, trying to follow the spirit of those initiatives.
In 1997 all programs were brought together in a CD-ROM, under the suggestive name "Omniscience 97". As a bonus, a multimedia program was included ("Periodic Table Multimedia") as well as Web pages with abundant teaching and learning resources on Physics and Mathematics. "Omniscience" has a home page (http://www.fis.uc.pt/~softc/omni98), through which new materials are being offered. A copy of the CD-ROM was given to all Portuguese middle and high schools.