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Home-school links: the modem as prefect

Israeli schoolchildren who have missed a day's lessons at the Metro West School in Ra'anana, near Tel Aviv, can now retrieve the "lost" information by pressing a button on their home computer and connecting to the country's first "educational data communication centre" based at the school, writes Helen Flusfeder.

Pupils can access the system by inserting a credit card with a chip into the computer and entering a personal code. They are then linked to the school's central database. They can log on to the school computer at any time, retrieve study materials, give in homework, obtain more details on subjects that interest them, receive messages from the school administration, query their teachers and even order books from the school library.

The service, which represents the beginning of a national network connecting schools and will enable schoolchildren nationwide to connect to each other and to exchange information, works through protocols of the Internet and is in Hebrew. All teachers and pupils will be connected through telephone lines to a central information centre in the school.

The project is a joint venture between the Communications Ministry, which invested 100,000 shekels, Bezek, Israel's national communications company, and the Municipality of Ra'anana. A city considered to be the richest in the country, Ra'anana is settled mainly by South African and American immigrants, who invested 40,000 shekels. Ra'anana is known to have the highest concentration of PCs in the country.

In order to run the system, which is a combination of two technologies - computers and communications - special high-speed communication lines were set up, which connect the school to a special Bezek service - "135", the company's information "kiosk". Connection to the service will enable the school to link to data banks in different subjects like education, science, art, economics, society and others, which are stored in different places all over Israel.

Each student and teacher will be able to receive updates to learning materials in his home computer, including how to access the school's library and different announcements from the school's administration.

Batya Westler, the programme's project leader at the Metro West School, says the aim of the project was to present a fresh perspective on "how to access updated information and new sources, relevant to subjects taught in high school on interdisciplinary programs.

"High school students and teachers can access the databases in their own free time and pace, regardless of limitations such as teaching hours, high school facilities availability and student dependency on teachers' time. All participants have access and become part of the Metro West High School Intranet, built on the high school area network integrated with the Bezek telephone service enabling students and teachers to work from home."

Yitzhak Kaul, Bezek's director, said that the company considers this project extremely important. He added that it is part of the process of "using multimedia as part of everyday life".

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