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Poor need to log on to catch up;Briefing;International;New technology


Street-corner computer kiosks form part of Singapore's drive to extend IT literacy to all income groups, reports John Greenlees

Singapore is to tackle head-on the digital divide between rich and poor families to keep alive its plan to become the world's most computer-literate and educationally-advanced nation.

While the government-funded "Singapore-ONE" scheme is succeeding in equipping the island-state's schools with the latest information technology, there are concerns that children from lower-income families are being dis-advantaged by the lack of computers at home .

Although pupils have equal access to infotechnology in the classroom, some pupils are gaining a learning advantage because they have access to it at home. Recent changes to the Singaporean curriculum have given infotechnology more prominence and encouraged the increased use of computers for homework and formal coursework.

It is not only the cost of IT equipment that is too high for lower-income families but also the cost of using Internet services.

Singapore-ONE's Internet access, which is 35 times faster than the World Wide Web, is used by pupils from high-income families to download useful information and images from a wide range of libraries and other information sources. Using this information, teachers point out, earns pupils higher grades.

Teachers are also noticing that pupils with their own computers and Internet connections are acquiring more advanced inquiry skills than pupils without them.

A recent newspaper survey reported that a majority of pupils said they were more motivated to do homework when it involved using computer equipment.

Most parents questioned for the same survey said using IT had boosted their interest and involvement in their children's schoolwork.

The government is trying to increase computer access for all Singaporean families. New and secondhand computers are being installed in communal computer rooms in the apartment blocks where lower-income families live.

At the same time, some schools are making laptop computers available for home use by pupils while they are undertakingparticularly important pieces of coursework.

Other ideas for closing the"digital divide" include selling recycled computers at a low cost. Pupils without their own PCs and Internet services will also be able to log on at street corners where 20,000 Internet-linked computer kiosks are being installed.

The ministry of education plans to make Singapore a world centre of computer-assisted learning.

That will mean developing the IT skills of all pupils, whatever their social background.

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