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Research shows IT boosts literacy

Research findings support government efforts to make teachers more

computer-literate. Karen Thornton and Warwick Mansell report

COMPUTERS can boost primary pupils' reading and writing even more than their numeracy skills, research published this week shows.

But the key to raising standards seems to be effective use of information and communications technology by teachers, rather than pupils. Literacy skills improved five times more quickly than average among children in primary schools where teachers made good use of computers.

Findings from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne coincide with the Government's announcement of a pound;20 million scheme to give teachers up to pound;500 off new personal computers.

Teachers will be able to claim back half the cost of a computer - up to pound;500 - but only if they take part in information and communications technology training, paid for by the National Lottery. All computer will be connected to the National Grid for Learning.

The TES, which is campaigning for every teacher to get free laptops, has established that the pound;20 million will be enough to give only one in 10 of England's 400,000 teachers a discount.

As the sum will be taxed, it will actually be worth only pound;380. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the amount allocated per teacher is less, more are expected to benefit.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education and Employment has warned that subsidies may vary. It has reserved the right to end the Computers for Teachers initiative if allocated funding is used up before 2002.

Speaking at the British Education Training Technology conference in London, learning and technology minister Michael Wills also announced pound;5m for developing courses on the web and CD-ROM, and just over pound;200m for high-speed Internet links by education authorities and regional consortia.

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