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'National Grid' to boost hi-tech skills;Digest;Opinion

The National Grid for Learning, the Government's scheme to connect every UK school to a purpose-built Internet service by 2002, will have a significant impact on the primary school sector as it is well behind in computer provision, writes Bill Hicks.

The aims of the Grid, and a timetable for its implementation, were set down in a consultation paper, Connecting the Learning Society, published last October. Its main five-year targets were as follows - * All schools, colleges, universities and libraries should be linked to the grid * Up to three-quarters of staff and half of all pupils should have free e-mail addresses * All 450,000 teachers should be given the chance of computer training or retraining, (to be funded by pound;230million from the National Lottery) * Information and communication technology (ICT) will be a mandatory part of initial teacher training by 1999.

An idea of what the National Grid will look like emerged in January, with the launch of a prototype NGfL website. At its heart is the Virtual Teacher Centre, a gateway to curriculum and professional development material. Already online are pages covering IT in primary maths, music and science.

And - in line with the Government's determination that the Grid will give special emphasis to key skills - there is a cheerful Literacy Time activity centre offering practical ideas, discussion areas, resources and contacts to help teachers implement the National Literacy Strategy.

The NGfL site also links to the DfEE's Standards and Effectiveness database, designed to "disseminate good practice and measures which help raise standards, including guidance on target-setting, literacy, numeracy and bench-marking".

Meanwhile, the process of building the network over which the Grid will exist gains momentum with UK NetYear, backed by a consortium of companies, pledged to connecting a further 10,000 schools to the Internet in 1998.

* The National Grid for Learning website can be found at www.ngfl.gov.uk.

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