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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Schools show parents net tools
pupils using computers
Most secondary schools now have net links
Hundreds of schools in England are opening their computer rooms this week so parents can get firsthand experience of how their children are using the internet.

The Minister for Learning and Technology, Michael Wills, said it would give practical advice and reassurance to help families make the most of the internet safely.

An associated website has been set up by the Department for Education with BT, Disney.co.uk, Channel 4's Homework High, The National Family and Parenting Institute, Schoolmaster.net, learn.co.uk, the Science Museum and MissDorothy.com.

It aims to show parents the best educational resources for their children, with a simple guide to using the internet, tips on websites to try, educational places to go and competitions.

The contests include BT's offer of PCs to schools which best say how they would use them to open the school for parents to learn more about the educational benefits of the internet.

Agony aunt

A new online "net auntie" will answer parents' questions on topics from the danger of chat rooms to avoiding repetitive strain injury.

Mr Wills said 86% or primary schools were now net-connected and almost all secondaries. Three quarters of children said they believed the internet helped with their learning.

"It's essential that parents and children can work side-by-side on the internet," he said.

"Parents need their own 'web power' to keep up with their children and take an active role in their education. But some parents can feel left behind by the pace of change."

So this week at Cranford Community College, west London, students and their parents will translate the school calendar into some of the 43 languages spoken at the school.

Parents will then be able to access information in their own language from the school website.

American influence

The Parents Online website does give a flavour of the richness of educational material available on the World Wide Web - but some of what is shown is not UK-based, which might be a drawback.

In the section for seven to 11 year olds for instance there are three items, two of them featuring the same American site, lightspan.com.

A "hot topics for parents featured article" begins: "In sixth grade your youngster is more on her reading than ever."

A science movie on digestion has a question from a child in San Antonio, Texas, and the commentary in the answer has an American accent.

One of the three GCSE sites is also American - eduweb.com. It has rich resources, but phrases such as "K-12 education" and the inevitable spelling differences - "color", "centimeter", "traveled" - might confuse UK parents and pupils.

At A-level, two of the three sites are also US-based.

The site also points up another continuing problem in the UK - the lack of any definitive register of schools' own websites.

Instead it suggests schools add their name to an international list maintained by the University of Minnesota.

The government's Superhighway Safety Guide has a new section on copyright law that answers questions from teachers and parents about such things as plagiarism, electronic copying law and how schools can protect their own copyright materials online.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Education
Schools 'on track' for online target
11 Jun 00 | Education
Challenge of lessons without schools
06 May 00 | Education
Teachers' computer concerns
18 Jun 00 | Education
Computer 'geeks' are cool
10 May 00 | Education
Cash to sustain school technology
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