The computer supplier Compaq has fallen foul of the Computers for Teachers scheme with its latest offer on desktop and portable machines. The government-funded scheme offers teachers in England up to pound;500 before tax off the price of approved computers, provided they are committed to taking part in New Opportunities Fund computer training.
BECTA, the Government agency which is administering Computers for Teachers, has objected to Compaq bundling computer trolleys with its offers. "The scheme is designed to furnish teachers with computers, not furniture," said BECTA's Andre Wagstaff.
Compaq, which is selling its models through PC World, maintains that the trolley included with its approved desktop models is "free" and teachers can decide whether or not they take it. According to installers, a trolley may be just what some people need - computers have been set up on bedroom floors for teachers to use sitting cross-legged, as well as on coffee tables perched at the end of beds.
Several other accredited suppliers are bundling peripherals such as printers and scanners, but this trend inevitably means a reduction in the quality of the computer.
Compaq's approved desktop model, for example, offers a computer running with an inferior AMD K6-2 533MHz processor for around pound;1,000, with a single cartridge printer, scanner and computer trolley as part of the deal. This compares with RM's offer of a computer running a super-fast Intel Pentium III 600MHz for around the same price but without the trolley and peripherals.
The latest details on Computers for Teachers are at www.cft.ngfl.gov.uk More than 1,000 public buildings including schools, community centres, libraries and places of worship will be converted into technology training centres under a pound;252 million government scheme. The initiative aims to bridge the digital divide and bring technology and training to disadvantaged people.
Michael Wills, Minister for Learning and Technology, said: "The very technology tht has the power to empower us all also has the potential to increase the problems of social exclusion unless we act to bridge the digital divide."
ICT skills are regarded as bringing a wide range of benefits to disadvantaged people. According to Michael Wills, computer skills increase job opportunities, ease access to health advice through such initiatives as NHS Direct and make it possible for people to use online links to public services (logging home repairs with local councils, for example).
Sarah Harrison, community development manager for Notting Hill Housing Trust, has seen tenants become increasingly aware of the value of computer and Internet skills. "Tenants are asking for training in how to use a computer and design a web page, yet their means to achieve this end are far off. A huge programme of confidence-boosting and training is required," she said.
School art departments have long been the poor relation when it comes to ICT. The high cost of graphics software and the need for lots of hard disk space to store work have tended to hold them back. All this is set to change.
Corel, the market leader in drawing software, is offering CorelDRAW 9 academic version for pound;89 (retail price is around pound;300). Additional licences cost pound;57 per user, or schools can opt for primary or secondary school site licences, starting at pound;250 per annum.
The academic product is almost identical to the professional version that is famous among designers for creating everything from the graphic characters in TV cartoon series South Park, to the new Euro coins.
As well as falling software prices, art departments can take advantage of the cheapest ever prices for upgrading hard drives. Adding several gigabytes of space will cost less than pound;50, or schools can opt for the ultra-trendy external Iomega zip drive, costing around pound;200, that runs storage CDs which hold a massive 650Mb data. Call 020 8298 85065for Corel DRAW9.Iomega's website is atwww.iomega-europe.com