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Schooled in computers

Govt puts faith and money in digital education

Computer technology has the power to transform the face of education, the government believes — that's why it's spending £1.8bn in the six years from 1998-2004 on information and communications technology for schools.

But those at the sharp end of educating children believe it will take much more than computers and money.

To an incredulous audience at the British Education and Teaching Technology Show today in Olympia, London, education secretary Estelle Morris ran a video of the government's vision of future schools: a Jetson-like, computer-simulated utopia featuring 'buildings specially designed to provide light, space and flexible use of ICT... an environment where learning is encouraged... and class sizes varying according to need'.

"No school in the country looks like this yet," said Morris, acknowledging the sniggers of the assembled teachers and ICT suppliers. "But there's nothing in the video which isn't already being done in one school or another.

"It's important to know now where we want to be in 10 or 15 years time," added Morris, formerly a teacher herself. "I want ICT to close the attainment gap between the achievement level of the children of the wealthy and the achievement level of the children of the poor."

As part of the government investment programme, Morris earmarked a further £50m to provide free laptops for head teachers in addition to the £50m announced for this initiative last November.

The government's big picture is of an egalitarian wired educational community linking pupils, teachers and parents.

But those responsible for supplying and buying computers for schools are less grandiose in their vision.

"Wireless classrooms? Very amusing," said one deputy head at the show, adding that it's a hard enough job stopping kids nicking the few computers he does have.

The government has already provided 50,000 teachers with PCs through various schemes over the last few years. But to provide every teacher in Britain's schools with a free laptop would cost billions of pounds.

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