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Thursday, 9 November, 2000, 11:53 GMT
Official backing for pupil laptops
children using pc at home
Those with home PCs have a head start
The government is putting 5m "seed corn" funding into a National e-Learning Foundation to encourage local communities to set up tax-efficient schemes to get portable computers to schoolchildren.

The idea was developed by a high tech entrepreneur, and the government hopes that by giving it official backing it can encourage more sponsorship from the private sector.

The plan is to help local communities - schools, parents and businesses - set up their own charitable foundations which get tax relief on donations.

The foundations will then buy portable computer equipment and lend or hire it to pupils for their own use, as another way of bridging the "digital divide" between computer haves and have-nots.

The scheme - announced in the chancellor's pre-Budget report - will run in parallel with the National Grid for Learning, the 1bn initiative to get modern computers and internet connections into the UK's schools.

Disadvantaged communities targeted

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "This new investment gives children at risk of being on the wrong side of the digital divide the extra - individual - opportunities to learn that a laptop can bring.

pupil using pc at school
Government is investing heavily in school computer equipment
"The National e-Learning Foundation has a clear aim to provide individual access to laptop learning to as many schoolchildren as possible - particularly those in disadvantaged areas.

"It's important that local schools and communities feel part of the digital revolution and that is why a network of local foundations will be established to deliver laptop learning locally.

"The local foundations will be innovative partnerships with local charities, businesses and parents working together to ensure that laptop learning is tailored to meet local needs and reaches the children most in need of the extra support such individual provision can give.

"At each school groups of children will be given individual access to the internet and computer learning with their own laptop."

A spokesperson for Mr Blunkett said it had yet to be decided exactly how this would operate.

Equal opportunities

Henry Beker, the mathematician, entrepreneur and former chairman of internet security specialist Baltimore Technologies, has been liaising with officials from the Department for Education on setting up the national foundation.

Henry Beker: Interim chair of the new foundation
He told BBC News Online that the crucial thing was "equity of access" - so that every child received a computer no matter whether their parents or their schools could afford it or not.

"The national foundation is not there to tell anybody what to do," he said. "It's there to create an environment in which this can all happen - acting as a catalyst."

He expects big corporations to be "more comfortable" with giving relatively large sums of money to the national foundation, which can then distribute it as it thinks fit.

Smaller organisations will feel happier working with local foundations. And he is keen to encourage technology start-up firms, who cannot spare the money, to donate shares in their companies which, it was to be hoped, would grow in value.

Heavyweight backing

Initially Prof Beker said he would chair the foundation's board of trustees, which would be made up of representatives of the communities the scheme was most designed to help.

Among the big players, computer chip maker Intel and computer manufacturer Dell announced their support on Wednesday.

Intel's regional education manager, Chris Parr, said its involvement was mainly in training some 100,000 teachers to use new technology.

Better awareness of its potential on their part was crucial to the sucess of any such scheme, he said.

"Teachers are the gatekeepers for the use of the technology in the classroom."

Enthusiasm

He recalled seeing a young maths teacher using a new notebook computer and interactive whiteboard in a school in Birmingham.

chris parr
Chris Parr: "Teachers are the gatekeepers"
"He got a kick out of it so his enthusiasm was through the roof, and there wasn't a single child in the class who wasn't focusing on the board and trying to find out what was coming next.

"They got through a lot more material in the lesson and it really did make a difference," he said.

Software giant Microsoft already operates local e-learning foundations.

On its model, the local charitable foundation can reclaim tax on the donations made to it and the VAT on the equipment it buys.

Nottingham is the first local education authority to have set up a city-wide e-learning foundation with Microsoft's help.

It is operating on the principle that a pupil can have access to a computer to use at home only if the family contributes something towards the cost.

See also:

21 Sep 00 | Education
City-wide school computers scheme
07 Apr 00 | Education
'Laptops for pupils' visionary
02 Feb 00 | Education
Gates wants laptop for every pupil
04 Nov 00 | Education
Schools' 21m internet bill
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