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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 08:58 GMT
10m computer giveaway

The scheme aims to bridge the technology divide
Thousands of families will get free computers under a 10m scheme to boost education and job prospects.

Almost 12,000 homes across England will take part in one of the biggest-ever social experiments, aimed at tackling the "digital divide".

Schools in areas of high social deprivation will also be given free computers under the 'Wired Up Communities' project.


There is a gulf emerging between those who have access to new technologies and those who do not

Michael Wills,
Learning and Technology Minister
Research shows that professionals are three times more likely to have logged on to the internet than those from semi-skilled or unskilled family backgrounds.

Learning and technology minister Michael Wills said: "There is a gulf emerging between those who have access to new technologies and those who do not, and it's a gap that must be narrowed if we are to create a fair and prosperous society."

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment, such as computers with internet access, will be given to families living on some of the poorest estates and most isolated regions of England.

These will include Newham in east London (750 households and a primary school); Framlingham in Suffolk (1,500 homes and a school); east Manchester (4,500 homes and several schools); Blackburn (2,500 homes and five schools); Alston in Cumbria (1,200 homes, isolated farms and three schools) and Brampton-upon-Dearne in South Yorkshire (1,500 households and laptops for 265 primary school children).

'Deprived sectors'

Training and support will be offered to those receiving equipment, and a website set up to encourage participants to access online learning and employment opportunities.

It is hoped the scheme will raise the computer: pupil ratios in the project areas significantly above National Grid for Learning targets (1:5 for secondary and 1:8 for primary) by 2004.

Mr Wills said: "We want to avoid the development of an ICT underclass and that is why we are piloting innovative ways of getting technology to the most deprived sectors of society.

"Wired up Communities will test the part new technologies will play in driving up educational standards and increasing job opportunities."

A range of new technologies will be tested, including broadband access, satellite communications and digital television.

The scheme was piloted in Kensington, Liverpool, where over 400 households are already benefiting from the new technology, with 2,000 more PCs to be installed by early summer.

'Profound contribution'

The national e-Learning Foundation is a newly-formed charity which aims to promote the use of ICT in education.

It is being granted 5m from the Department for Education and Employment to help provide ICT in the Wired Up Communities and eventually throughout the country.

Founder-chairman, Professor Henry J Beker, said the grant will help to give children "access to technology which can greatly enhance their life chances and, in time, make a profound contribution to the national economy".

Installation of equipment is expected to begin during the summer.

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