Laptops in their infancy

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Dorothy Walker finds a scheme that enables pupils in Years 1 and 2 to take home portable computers

Microchips, megabytes and motherboards are all words firmly committed to memory by Year 2 pupils at Chyngton primary school in East Sussex. These are the names of the pupils' rota groups in a pioneering scheme that enables the 60 youngsters to take home a laptop computer every week.

The scheme is supported by the e-Learning Foundation, which aims to ensure that all children have access to computers - in school and at home.

Chyngton exemplifies how schools can work with the foundation, enlisting the help of the local community to secure resources and get more mileage out of ICT. Sponsorship is raised through a local charity - in this case, a local foundation set up earlier this year by East Sussex local education authority that is open to all schools in the county.

Chyngton, regarded as a leader in the use of technology, was first to enlist and volunteered to share its experience with other schools. In March, 20 laptops were leased for use by Year 1, and staff set out to persuade parents to contribute to the costs. By the end of the summer term, more than half of all families had agreed to contribute, laying the foundations for sustainable funding that will allow Year 1 pupils to use their laptops throughout their Chyngton careers. Some parents pay pound;1 per week, others twice or three times that amount. But neither staff nor pupils know who has agreed to contribute, and all children have equal access to the computers.

Pupils take home machines on a rota. They are given homework, and parents are encouraged to play an active role through a parent-and-child computer club - complete with creche - run by the deputy head Christine Terrey.

The scheme has now been extended to current Year 1 pupils and Chyngton's ultimate aim is to provide one machine for every two pupils in the school.

"That is an aim shared by many schools," says Valerie Thompson, chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation. "The first milestone is to give access to every child, when and where it is needed - but that doesn't have to mean one computer each. At Chyngton, there is a real sense that children are making progress in ways they would not have done before."

She says that one of the keys to success is the decision to focus procurement strategy on portable ICT resources.

"Putting lots of money into laptops, computer suites and desktop machines is not necessarily the best approach," she says.

"All the Chyngton laptops were with families throughout the summer holidays, while more than 1.5 million computers were locked up in schools around the country doing nothing."

Chyngton will receive a grant from the e-Learning Foundation's national Digital Divide Fund in recognition of the commitment shown by parents and staff.

Thompson says: "Chyngton provides an excellent example of strategic leadership in ICT. None of this is rocket science, but it does require senior leaders to drive the programme and overcome fears about asking parents to contribute.

"Why shouldn't they contribute? This is fantastic for the whole family."

And her advice to schools: "Talk to us, and we will help you. And be confident - it works."

e-Learning Foundation: Tel: 01372.824372

* See the interview with Estelle Morris, chair of the e-Learning Foundation, on page 38

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