Pioneers who lag behind

Faye Barrow and her friends pay 10p each to send e-mail to their pals around the world, writes Esther Leach.

They will probably send three or four messages each during most weeks. Every penny goes towards the cost of their school's link with the Internet, and the future.

"We have been grubbing around for money," said Bob Dingle, head of Seaham comprehensive school in east Durham. "Now we are going into debt, borrowing Pounds 30,000 from the county to allow us to ensure as many children as possible have experience of the Internet. The money will pay for five different departments to have access.

"The potential benefits are enormous for the children but there is no adequate funding."

Seaham has been told by the county's IT adviser that it is at the cutting edge of the use of the Internet. But Colin Barratt, the senior English teacher at Seaham who launched the school on the Internet 18 months ago, says they are falling behind countries such as Ethiopia where there is official funding.

"Perhaps we are at the forefront among schools in this country but I know from experience of the Internet we are lagging behind."

Mr Barratt said: "I am on the Internet at home and I began to realise the educational benefits and resouces available. I brought some software into school and it began from there. I don't think it would have happened otherwise.

"Now we are taking part in projects with schools and students worldwide making contact using e-mail, video conferencing and also via Internet Phone, software which allows students to speak directly with others anywhere in the world for the cost of a local call. The opportunity to actually speak with people who are many thousands of miles away has caused much excitement. We are hoping to twin with a school in the United States later this term. Some students who have learning difficulties are stimulated by the experience of surfing the web and are not discouraged because there is no element of failure. It is almost entirely a positive and pleasant experience.

"Talking and writing with others introduces an audience and a humanising element to their work, they are dealing with real people and what they do can clearly have an effect. Language skills are clearly enhanced. Talking with others does wonders for the children's confidence and reasoning ability. "

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