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Laptops replace the jotter

The future is laptop when you can't squeeze normal-size computers into already tight classrooms, an East Lothian pilot project in 10 primaries has concluded.

Smaller, mobile machines are flexible and are now backed by longer battery life and radio networks that remove the need for miles of cabling. "They can now be seen as an integral part of the learning process alongside books and jotters," officials say.

Scottish Executive targets aim to have at least four computers per class but the authority argues there is simply no room for office-style, desktop PCs because of rising school rolls.

East Lothian acknowledges it has lagged behind in information and communications technology but believes it is catching up fast. Staff and children from nursery through to primary 7 were "excited and motivated" by the new laptops, councillors heard on Tuesday.

Teachers now had the right number of computers for each task and any group throughout the primary curriculum. Laptops avoid queuing for the computer at the back of the class or timetabling individual sessions in short blocks, a project report maintains.

"Strangely enough, there is no evidence that laptops are more likely to be stolen. The small size and ase of carrying which would apparently make them easy targets, make it easy to move them out of sight into secure areas," it adds.

Laptops used with wireless technology, which connects machines centrally in a school, offer more flexibility than cabling, officials say.

"The wireless networks were used extensively by staff and pupils and proved to be a highly successful method of accessing files from portable computers. The users could log on to any computer to access and edit their files and were not required to find the same computer each time," the project report states.

"The wireless network allowed the laptops to remain portable and still be used flexibly with individuals or groups of various sizes within the classroom and throughout the school."

East Lothian favours iBook laptops and believes Compaq to the best of the Windows-based machines. The council has already bought more than 1,000 Windows-based, IBM-compatible personal computers and plans to install up to a further 400 by the start of next session.

It is also buying several hundred dedicated portable word processors and up to 500 graphic calculators to allow pupils to use information technology flexibly in the classroom.

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