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Hang Ups

The lottery has replaced the circus as the people's opium," said a Guardian editorial. It's true. Nearly 70 per cent of the population finds it impossible to forgo their Saturday evening fix, but too many of these addicts still foolishly put their faith in old-fashioned luck.

Those with access to a PC should know better. For Pounds 18.50, they could invest in Lotuscode's Excalibur which, apparently, spotted five of the correct numbers and the bonus ball in last January's giant roll-over bonanza. You've got to admire the altruism of the good folk at Lotuscode - in their position, most of us, rather than advertise such a remarkable piece of software, would keep it under lock and key and thereby ensure that we wouldn't have had to share an inevitable string of jackpots with anyone else.

The Internet is also renowned for a willingness to share. Hundreds of sites offer hot tips, not only for winning Britain's lottery, but for those of every other country. Cyberspace even has a lottery of its own. Entry is free, but the prize is only Pounds 300. Participants might not get rich, but they have the satisfaction of knowing that they are not lining the pockets of the fat cats at Camelot.

Not that we should begrudge them a penny of their six-figure bonuses. Their advertisements, featuring that piece of cake, might have been smug, but there's no denying the facts. In six months, they installed 30,000 computer terminals and trained the 91,000 staff needed to operate them.

The system copes with more than 33 million transactions a week - sometimes handling as many as 30,000 a minute - and has proven to be remarkably reliable, bug-free and idiot-proof. It has also generated an awful lot of money.

Kenneth Baker - the man who made the British educational system what it is today - wants to see some of this bounty going to education. And what better way to spend money that has been generated by the wonders of IT than on improving the quality of IT in schools? They could be totally re-equipped in readiness for the arrival of the information superhighway.

Unfortunately, it's easy to predict how the money will be distributed - since these things are always done in the same divisive way. Schools will have to compete against each other. IT co-ordinators - or at least those who are on the ball - will set about composing irresistible bids in which they'll explain how their past successes in using new technology prove that they will make good use of the extra cash. So schools that already take IT seriously will win the jackpot - and those most in need of it will be left even further behind.

Before giving schools a bean, we first need to have, as the National Council for the Advisers for Computers in Education keeps telling us, an agreed national policy for IT in schools with clearly defined aims and objectives. Then, the money could be distributed fairly to ensure that every school received the resources and Inset it needed to put the policy into effect.

The problem is that if the Department for Education and Employment were left in charge of the exercise, it would make as big a botch of it as it did of introducing the national curriculum in Mr Baker's day. Far better to leave it to an organisation with a track record of success in co-ordinating a massive national enterprise, installing new technology and training staff.

Give the contract to Camelot. It would mean that the company would have no time to run the National Lottery. Hand that over to the DfEE. It wouldn't be long before circuses became popular again. 0181 737

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