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Sue Littlemore
"The ideal is for every child to have a computer at home"
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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 20:36 GMT
Computers create 'children's underclass'
Ambleside CE Primary
Ambleside CE Primary: Traditional but hi-tech
By BBC Education Correspondent Sue Littlemore

The internet offers amazing educational opportunities. But there is concern that it is creating a new "technology underclass" for those children who have little or no access to it.

Charlotte Brass
Charlotte Brass feels left out
Ambleside Primary School in Cumbria illustrates the divide.

The children are fortunate to have ready access to information and communications technology at school, which has its own Flash-enhanced website with more than a thousand pages of pupils' work and even a live webcam.

The children use CD-ROMs in their projects, design number games on the interactive website, and use computers to control little robots.

David Raven-Hill
David Raven-Hill: "It concerns me"
But the headteacher, David Raven-Hill, is aware of the dangers.

"Those who don't have the choice - who don't have computers at home - their self-esteem may be knocked relative to those who do have computers at home, and that does concern me," he said.

Increasingly, "having a computer" is equated with having an internet connection - few are sold these days without a modem. Up to a fifth of households in the UK with children are online.

In Ambleside, eight-year-old Jade Cunniff uses the personal computer in her father's study to connect to the school website, where she writes a book review. She is aware that she is relatively fortunate.

Jade Cunniff
Jade Cunniff has access to her father's PC
"Most people just show off, that they are the best because they have got a computer and the other people haven't," she said.

"That makes the people who haven't got the internet upset."

Her friend, Charlotte Brass, does not have a computer at home - her parents say they would struggle to afford one. As a result, she feels left behind compared with children who do have one.

"When it comes to computers, they always turn out to know the most about what you have to do," she said.

Higher marks

Teachers have said that pupils who do their homework on computer often get higher marks - not least because the presentation is better.

gill valentine
Gill Valentine: "Disenfranchised as adults"
That is just a small part of what might become a new and extremely damaging social divide. Academics are warning already of a technological underclass.

At Sheffield University, Professor Gill Valentine says that children who are excluded from the technology now will be marginalised as adults.

"They will be completely disenfranchised," she said.

"They won't be able to find work, they won't be able to participate in everyday life, they won't be able to vote, they won't be able to access all sorts of information."

Efforts to get computers into public places such as libraries are welcome, but teachers admit the ideal is for every child to have a computer at home.

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