So you want to get connected? Who do you turn to? The bigger Internet providers might have problems servicing all their customers, while the smaller ones might not be able to provide access numbers countrywide, and some might be just too expensive. Well, don't worry, help is at hand.
A new project set up by the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) is giving schools guidance on the merits of the different Internet access providers (IAPs). Under its remit to "evaluate the potential of new technologies to enhance learning and to raise standards" in education, it is inviting all Internet providers to take part in its evaluation scheme which is lauched in London on June 30.
While NCET director Fred Daly is "pleased that an increasing number of schools are going on-line", he is determined to help by providing information about the best value-for-money access.
The project also wants to collate information for the IAPs themselves, enabling them to target the education market accurately. The council will use data provided by its Focus School Network of 148 schools, which was set up in 1996 to "encourage communication between schools and colleges". This will provide a practical perspective on the Internet providers, analysing the educational advantages of the different packages. Ease of use, accessibility of helpline support, and the quality of the software will be examined.
The council will also provide statistical information for schools based on automatic testing of the IAPs. According to NCET sources, the tests will be "technically more comprehensive" than standard UK testing and will look at a range of factors including the proportion of dial-ups that are successful at the first attempt, the speed at which data is transferred, and the efficiency of e-mail. The results will be published on the NCET's own Web site this autumn, with automatic updates.
About 4,000 schools and colleges are thought to be connected to the Internet - some with dial-up connection, a minority via their computer networks. It can be an expensive business to equip a school with access for all pupils. It is hoped the NCET evaluation will enable schools and colleges to make an educated decision.
* Internet providers wanting to take part in the evaluation should contact Sonia Tennant, NCET, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry QV4 7JJ. Tel: 01203 416994.
* The NCET's home page on the World Wide Web is at http:www.ncet.org. uk