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Isle of Man leads the laptop revolution

The Isle of Man is famous for its tailless Manx cats, TT motorcycle event and three-legged emblem. But now it has another claim to fame: becoming the first authority in the British Isles to give all of its teachers their own laptop computers. The Isle of Man has five secondary schools and 35 primary schools, with around 750 teachers. The Manx government is providing pound;2 million per annum for ICT in schools and the computerpupil ratio in primary schools is 1:7 and in secondary schools 1:5. Last September, the Laptops for Teachers scheme provided every full-time teacher with a computer. The scheme, which cost around pound;1.25 million, loans computers to all teachers, which remain their personal property while they are employed as a teacher. The aim is to replace the machines every three years.

Manx primary schools use Apple Macintosh computers, so primary teachers have Apple G3 PowerBooks, while secondary school teachers have either a Apple laptop or a Compaq portable computer. Each laptop is supplied with Microsoft Office, Filemaker Pro, Apple Works, virus checking software and some software developed in-house by the Isle of Man education department. The department also runs its version of NOF training, which consists of 20-25 sessions, each lasting around 90 minutes. In one memoable session, a hotel conference room was hired out and the teachers attending the training session used laptops equipped with wireless technology to send and receive information.

John Thornley, ICT adviser at the department of education says: "Unless teachers have access to a laptop, training will not be as effective as it should be. Computers are now a fundamental part of their job. You wouldn't ask someone working in a bank to provide their own computer, so why should you expect a teacher to?" All primary schools and one secondary school are equipped with wireless networks so teachers can roam sites and access information from almost anywhere on their laptops: " It means that during a lesson, a teacher can sit alongside a pupil and call up information, send emails or access the Internet." Thornley says teachers now take the technology for granted. But the laptops scheme has created some problems: "There is always the problem of who gets a computer. The scheme doesn't cover part-time teaching staff or support staff and that does create some unhappiness." But despite this, he has no doubt about the value of the scheme: "Getting teachers their own laptops has made more of a difference than all the other ICT initiatives we've run during the past 10 years."

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