Last February, Microsoft launched its Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL) programme in the UK. The aim of AAL is to provide all pupils with their own portable computers, which Mark East, Microsoft's Education Group manager, admits that is a tall order. "If the Government had the goal of one-to-one access, it would cost around pound;8 billion," he says, "and this funding would have to be refreshed every three years."
The message is clear: if access to ICT is to be greatly increased, funds are going to have to be provided by schools, parents and the private sector. That is why Microsoft has launched e-Learning Foundations, a programme set up by business consultants Arthur Anderson to help schools form their own charitable foundations.
The advantages this offers include tax relief on parental contributions through a deed of covenant: "A contribution from a basic-rate tax payer means schools can make a saving of up to 23 per cent on th price of computer. So if four parents make a deed of covenant, it could effectively mean one free PC for the school," says East. And getting support from corporates could be easier, as tax relief can be claimed on any charitable donations they make. Microsoft has already pledged to donate 7 per cent of its software profits to charitable causes.
By the time you read this, e-Learning documents should have gone out to schools, and the Charity Commission says it will process all applications quickly. Microsoft's initiative appears laudable, but not every school or LEA will be able to support parents in buying a computer. What education is crying out for is a National Foundation, and Microsoft is considering this, to ensure schools can benefit from initiatives like e-Learning.
If the Government is serious about preventing a digital divide forming in our society, it will establish a National Foundation - and quickly.