Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 12:18 UK

Pupils to get free home computers

boy using laptop
The government regards computers as an essential educational tool

The first 20,000 youngsters to benefit from plans to ensure all of England's school-age children have computer access at home have been earmarked.

The 300m scheme will be piloted among pupils from low-income families in Suffolk and in Oldham from February.

Grants will pay for a computer, software, internet access for one year and three years' technical support.

Schools Minister Jim Knight also wants IT firms to offer cheap deals to all pupils aged seven to 18 in those areas.

Some 150,000 youngsters could benefit, while approved packages would get a quality mark and be used in the national roll-out of this "Next Generation Learning" scheme.

The idea was first proposed in January 2007, when the government set up a taskforce to ensure all children had access to the internet outside school.

Schools are revolutionising how they educate faster than many families realise.
Jim Knight
Schools Minister

But there has been talk of and action in many smaller schemes to address the so-called "digital divide" over many years.

Mr Knight said this scheme was not just about providing computers for those who could not afford them, it was also about selling the wider educational benefits of IT and the internet to those who were not convinced.

He said: "There has to be a culture where families see home access is as important as making sure their children have pen, paper and calculator at school.

"The bottom line is that having home access to the internet or a computer is no longer an optional extra for school work it is fast becoming essential.

"Schools are revolutionising how they educate faster than many families realise.

"There is no substitute for good classroom teaching but day-to-day school work is increasingly web and computer based - and it is clear that students get better results where technology is used effectively at home to study, research and communicate."

Approved suppliers

Families who would qualify for the full package would be those on incomes of less than 15,500 or on benefits such as Income Support or Job Seekers' Allowance.

The grant will be in the form of a single use card. Parents will have to apply for it to their local authority.

Marketing campaigns will be run to sell the benefits of computer access to those who can afford it but need to be convinced of its worth.

As part of the 30m pilot phase, local authorities will be able to seek additional funding to target specific vulnerable groups who do not have IT access at home.

These may include low-income families in the National Challenge programme, which involves schools with relatively low exam results, as well as pupils in alternative educational provision and those in care.

Meanwhile, IT suppliers will be invited to apply for approved supplier status.

The scheme is set to go nationwide in the autumn of 2009.

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