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Pupils turn tutor in laptop intensive

Primary pupils are teaching trainee teachers how to push back the boundaries of learning with the help of laptop computers.

Ten-year-olds from a Warwickshire school have turned educator to demonstrate some of the benefits that laptops have brought to the classroom. The youngsters from Brookhurst combined school in Leamington share one machine between two for four to five months and are even able to take them home.

Headteacher Graeme Bassett said the intensive use had enabled nine-year-olds to tackle GCSE-level mathematical problems while six-year-olds were now working with spreadsheets. "They are doing so many things that are beyond what you would normally expect at a primary school."

The National Council for Educational Technology is clear that portables have a positive impact on the curriculum, but most schools lack equipment.

Limited numbers of machines mean that children often have access only once every three weeks - if they are lucky - so constantly have to re-learn how to use them.

Brookhurst is linked to the Internet, the system of global computer networks, for electronic mail. It runs a primary laptop project in conjunction with Warwick University to study the effect of laptops on children's mathematical development and allow student teachers to observe the educational benefits of using computers.

It also has connections with schools in the United States - including Alaska - and Sweden. Like other Warwickshire schools, it is facing budget problems, but currently has 30 laptops. These are provided by sponsors including Apple, the Department for Education and the university. IBM is about to supply another 15 computers.

Dave Pratt from Warwick University, a project director, said: "The problem for a lot of schools is that they never really get to the position to be able to fully exploit the technology.

"We have found that with this level of access children can learn enough in three weeks to use computers independently."

Pupils peer-tutor other children within the school, have taught their parents and are now sharing their expertise with fourth-year trainee teachers from Warwick.

All the children - even the six-year-olds - use commercial software which is designed for adults. The package includes spreadsheets, word-processing and graphics, but no games. And, according to Mr Bassett: "We know that these computers will be used in preference to watching TV and any Nintendo or games console."

Laptops have been taken on field trips and visits to museums and are used for whatever lessons children want.

Mr Bassett said: "It is incredible what they do for the children's self-esteem. I have a six-year-old pupil who, if asked to write anything, struggled for hours to write three lines, but with the computer he has added and added to a story and finished up with a story that was very readable. All of his skills came tumbling out and he is now competing on the same level as other children."

Mr Pratt added: "We found that we were making assumptions about what children of a certain age would be able to do, but just recently we have been doing spreadsheets with the six-year-olds who were drawing up their own formulae.

"I couldn't believe that these six-year-olds could understand the algebraic ideas they were using. I don't know what is going to come out of this next. " An evaluation of 30 portable computer projects which was published last year by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that they increased access to the curriculum for all pupils.

The majority of project co-ordinators reported that regular use of portables brought about an improved attitude to schoolwork and homework, while children seemed to be more motivated and able to sustain concentration for longer than expected.

The eight-year-olds from Brookhurst spent a couple of hours working through maths problems with the student teachers at Warwick last week, and will be back at the university today.

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