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Henry Beker
"Equity of access is vital."
 real 28k

Friday, 7 April, 2000, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
'Laptops for pupils' visionary
professor henry beker
Henry Beker: Belief in educational technology
By BBC News Online's Gary Eason

The head of one of the UK's most successful technology companies is appealing to other hi-tech entrepreneurs to help him realise his vision of every schoolchild having their own portable computer.

Henry Beker, founder and chairman of Baltimore Technologies, wants them to contribute towards raising the billions of pounds involved through a network of school-based charitable foundations.

Professor Beker says some have agreed already to provide a share in their assets to kick off the national "e-Learning Foundation" that would underpin the scheme.

He is liaising with officials at the Department of Education and says government backing will be essential if the scheme is to work.

Software giant Microsoft has also helped by donating 1m.

'Enabler'

Professor Beker's starting point is a belief in the value of education, and the ability of technology to transform it.


It's an ambitious programme. We need to be ambitious though...

Henry Beker
"The technology should, like maths and English, be a fundamental enabler in the classroom for all lessons," he said.

"The real breakthrough for us as a nation will come when children do have the use of this technology the whole time.

"So it's not just, you have half an hour in the computer room ... but that every single child will have access to this technology and be able to use it the whole time."

But he says there has to be "equity of access" - an end to the "digital divide" - so that every child gets a computer no matter whether their parents or their schools can afford it or not.

From the grass roots

His idea therefore is that charitable foundations be set up locally, based on schools, to raise the money from parents, local education authorities and businesses to buy and to maintain the equipment.

These would be supported administratively, and if necessary financially, by the national e-Learning Foundation.

The details of how this would work are still to be worked out, but Professor Beker hopes it could be in operation within a few months.

He is appealing in particular to fledgling hi-tech companies to get involved.

"The good news is that I already do have some companies with which I have been working and discussing this that have already agreed to put equity into the foundation.

"It may not seem much today ... but what I'm hoping of course is that in a few years' time of course that equity will grow, and that will provide a sustainable source of finance for the foundation to go forward.

Microsoft on board

"It is, I think, a self-reinforcing circle we'll be building, because it is exactly those companies who'll benefit most if we really do turn this into an 'e-society' and make the UK the place in the world where one can build e-commerce companies."

Microsoft has helped to kick off the foundation. It has its own scheme, Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL), which its chairman, Bill Gates, promoted on a recent visit to London.

He also spoke of wanting every schoolchild to have a laptop computer, but AAL essentially involves schools buying a package of computers and Microsoft software from various suppliers.

It also gives schools and education authorities advice on how to get the tax benefits of setting up a charitable "e-Learning Foundation".

Officials wary

A source at the Department for Education said Professor Beker had discussed his idea with officials there. He had been asked to address some concerns they had raised.

He accepts that they are right to seek reassurance, particularly on how the foundation would benefit the most disadvantaged and would work alongside government initiatives.

"I need their support, it can't go ahead without their support," he said.

"My personal target is that within the next five years almost all students in a school will have access to this technology.

"It's an ambitious programme. We need to be ambitious though if we really are going to change this society."

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02 Feb 00 | Education
Gates wants laptop for every pupil
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