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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 September 2007, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Hi-tech leap for island's pupils
By Ruth Davidson
BBC Scotland's Politics Show

A small corner of Scotland has big ideas about the future of education. Pupils on the island of Islay are the first in Europe to go digital, and are gaining admiring glances from across the water.

School classroom
Pupils have picked up the technology relatively easily

Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, is home to just over 3,000 people.

It is said that island life is lived at a slightly slower pace, but here on Islay, there's a group of pupils on the fast track to the future.

Ian Stuart, principal technology teacher at Islay High School in Bowmore, is the driving force behind a scheme, which has seen ultra-light, compact and mobile computers handed out to all 245 pupils.

With cutting edge software, multi-media applications and write-on technology the PCs are more powerful and expensive than the average laptop.

And it is not just web design classes that are benefiting. The Islay pupils use the new technology in all their lessons, changing the way they and their teachers work.

The real revolution is happening after the school bell, in kitchens and bedrooms in houses on Islay and Jura.

Natalie Rountree
We never expected to get such fantastic pieces of equipment
Natalie Rountree

When the pupils get home, these PCs are not just their jotters - they will act as textbooks, notes and videos too; their window on the world.

Homework can be e-mailed to teachers and, such is the excitement with the new technology so far, pupils' productivity has gone through the roof and assignments are being handed in on time more often.

The results have created interest across Europe. The International School in Monaco has been the latest to get in touch to find out how islanders here are getting on. Pride in this trailblazing initiative is apparent.

Pupil Natalie Rountree said it was a big change from jotters, but has found the technology easy to use.

New computer
Pupil productivity has apparently increased

"Because we live on an island, we've got disadvantages to everything," said the 16-year-old.

"We never expected to get such fantastic pieces of equipment. We didn't think we'd manage to get the funding for it."

The local community is fully supportive of what is going on at the school. Parents are pleased, if at times a little daunted, by their techno-savvy offspring.

Islay is now producing a whole generation of computer literate youngsters even if, up until now, there was no computer in the home.

Annette Arnott, who has a 14-year-old daughter at the school, said: "They're not fazed by new technology - they're quite happy to just embrace it."

Embracing technology

The funding for all of this has come from the Scottish Executive's Schools of Ambition programme. Unveiled by the then first minister Jack McConnell back in 2005, selected schools get an extra 100,000 a year for three years to make improvements.

Islay High School
Some pupils feel disadvantaged because of their remote location

It was dismissed at the time by the Tories as "half-hearted" and the SNP as '"neither new nor original" - but fast forward two years and the new Nationalist government is now monitoring progress with interest to ensure any lessons learned will benefit all the country's schools.

At Islay High School, the benefits are clearly outweighing the costs and the computers are even offsetting expenses in other areas.

Mr Stuart said the equipment could half photocopying costs.

"Our education money was going on paying for paper which went into the pupils' and teachers' hands, was there for a short time and then was put in the recycle bin," he said.

It is unclear what will happen to the Schools of Ambition programme, currently involving 52 schools, when it has run its course - but by any measure, it has been a success story in the Hebrides.


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