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Pilots lined up for the Internet superhighway

Fifty schools will find out in the next couple of weeks whether they have been chosen to pilot use of the Internet global computer system.

The scheme, called "Schools Online" and launched by the Industry and Energy Minister Tim Eggar this week, will receive Pounds 250,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry and a further Pounds 350,000 from technology firms.

Already 30 secondary schools have been earmarked and another 20 are to be chosen by the computer firms involved. The first pilot school will begin working with the firms next term.

If the pilot is a success and more schools join the initiative the DTI has pledged to provide an additional Pounds 750,000. The participating companies will "adopt" two or three local schools and provide them with advice, training and, in some cases, equipment to enable them to plug into E-mail systems. No deadline has been set for all secondary schools to be on the Internet, although it is hoped this will be achieved.

It is anticipated schools will use the facilities particularly in the teaching of foreign languages, by linking up with schools overseas, and in information technology lessons. The DTI has received more than 100 enquiries from schools anxious to take part.

Launching the project, Mr Eggar said: "It is crucial that tomorrow's workforce is computer literate and, what is more, information technology can make learning more exciting and productive. It will also help UK industry raise awareness about new markets and applications for technology."

Under the scheme the DTI will provide a help-desk issuing advice to schools as well as monitoring their experiences.

The companies involved in the "task force" set up to work with schools include British Telecom, Cable Wireless, Lucas Engineering and Motorola, as well as several major computer firms.

Andrew Boswell, chairman of the task force and a director of ICL, said the role of the communications industry in the project was to "stimulate information technology in the education sector". He said individual companies may help schools meet some of the set-up costs but they would not be giving away equipment on a large scale.

Mr Boswell added that attempts were being made to include a representative cross-section of schools from around the country in the pilot, and it was likely to include schools in the maintained and independent sectors.

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