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Last Updated: Monday, 15 March, 2004, 19:58 GMT
New drive to give pupils laptops
Essex is the latest education authority to urge parents to make tax-deductible contributions to a charity so schoolchildren can have laptops.

Its e-learning project aims to provide a "digital learning device" to all 200,000 of its school pupils by 2007.

Essex says it has planned the endeavour cautiously - and has been "inundated" with interest from its schools.

But an education authority which led the way with a similar scheme said it had been only "a qualified success".

'Relish'

The county's senior information and communication technology adviser, Anthony Burdis, said that in pilot studies, lower-achieving children's national curriculum test scores rose half a grade in one term.

We found the volume of work goes up, particularly homework
Anthony Burdis, Essex County Council
Teachers attributed this to students being inspired to learn by having the technology available at home as well as at school.

"We found the volume of work goes up, particularly homework, and they seem to relish the fact that they use the laptop," he said.

Another important facet was that brothers and sisters also had access - as did parents.

In areas of social disadvantage, this could have a real impact on their life chances, he said.

During the fighting in Iraq, pupils had been able to use the web space that is part of the scheme to put up notices for parents serving in the armed forces, Mr Burdis said.

More affluent families might already have computers at home but they tended to be shared among siblings.

Individual laptops meant they would not have to "queue up" to use them.

Tax relief

The Anytime, Anywhere Learning initiative - pioneered by software company Microsoft - involves the setting up of a charitable "e-learning foundation".

The foundation leases laptops for children's use, paid for by donations to the foundation - which attract tax relief.

Higher-rate taxpayers get a higher rate of relief; those on low incomes get none.

There is, however, no guarantee that those contributing to the scheme will see their children get the benefit - that direct trade-off would contravene the charity rules.

Mr Burdis said schools in Essex were likely to contribute via their parents' associations, rather than individuals, but the target was to raise 4 to 5 per pupil per week.

'Exciting'

He likened it to raising funds for a school swimming pool: people contributed according to their means, but when it was built everyone got to use it.

Also, laptops leased at bulk rates, with servicing included, meant a better deal than a one-off purchase.

If schools did not raise the money they needed, the Essex foundation would make up the shortfall.

Mr Burdis said there were pledges involved to ensure this was not misused.

The authority hopes shortly to announce major sponsorship by a computer firm.

He said it was "an extraordinarily exciting" scheme.

Similar sentiments heralded the start of a similar scheme in Nottingham City education authority in 2000.

A spokesperson there said on Monday that the number of laptops taken up had been "not as many as we had hoped".

She said the authority was refocusing its efforts on a new project and hoped to agree a deal later this week.

This involves an intelligent, web-based way of delivering learning materials to students and tracking their progress.




SEE ALSO:
Heads to take computer classes
17 Mar 03  |  Education


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