Essex County Council Education Department has embarked on an ambitious plan to give every school child in the county 1-to-1 wireless access to the internet and online teaching materials.
The scheme, still in its early stages, aims to see all primary and secondary schools with broadband connections feeding hotspots in every classroom by 2007.
Pupils will use Wi-Fi enabled laptops to access the net, at first just in the classroom but eventually from all round the school and perhaps even at home.
'We already have pilot schemes up and running in four schools,' says Anna Suggett, ICT curriculum development advisor. 'Initially we've established 1-to-1 ownership of wireless laptops in year or department groups, and it?s been very successful.'
Once all Essex's schools have wireless networks within them, the plan is to connect them up into one big network. This will proceed by creating clusters of interlinked schools, according to geographical area, using directional wireless links, before finally linking all the clusters up.
But this is very much in the future. 'We're going slowly right now,' says Suggett, 'The main issue is getting all the schools onto broadband.'
Installing the hot spots is also time consuming, as a lot of attention must be given to training staff and students to use them. 'Experience has taught us that if people aren't properly trained to use a new technololgy, it's no use having the technology there,' says Suggett.
If the these first stages of education are got right, though, the hope is that the scheme will have a lasting effect both on students and the wider community in Essex. 'Already in the pilot schools we have parents coming in to use the computers for lifelong education purposes,' says Suggett. 'It's hoped that schools will come to act as ITC hubs for the community.'
Funding for the scheme comes partly from schools' budgets, sponsorship, local IT manufacturers and the Essex e-Learning Foundation, a new charity formed to raise funds for this and other schemes.
Julie Bain of the e-Learning Foundation echoes Suggett's optimism for the project's possibilities. 'It's the scope and potential that is really visionary about this initiative. This is a chance to create learning communities, where the entire county can reap the benefits of high-speed anytime, anywhere wireless Internet access.'