Next stage could be 'ICT for all'

6th May 2005 at 01:00
A major new document, Connecting the UK: the digital strategy, jointly published by the Department for Trade and Industry and the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, sets out the proposed next stage of the Government's digital strategy, depending on yesterday's election result. It covers the public sector, including the provision of ICT in education, both at home and school.

A centrepiece of the strategy involves embedding ICT in education and providing all learners with their own virtual learning space for storing and accessing work, almost anywhere and anytime. The Government says it is anxious to include children and parents from low-income households in its vision of "a digital Britain".

This means providing greater access to hardware, broadband internet and online content. On the broadband front, the document says that by this summer, broadband will be available to 99 per cent of the population. There are currently some seven million broadband addresses in the UK and a new broadband connection is being made around every 10 seconds, says the document. There are now around 6,000 online community centres in the UK, and 95 per cent of households are within reach of a centre. The communications regulator Ofcom would be asked to monitor the social groups and age of those signing up for broadband.

The document acknowledges that there is a digital divide and notes that homes in the AB social groups are three times more likely to have internet access than those in groups D and E. Around 44 per cent of homes do not have internet access. Great efforts would be made to get more ICT into homes.

One plan would involve a new national procurement scheme in order to get ICT equipment at the lowest possible price for schools. "Currently there is little co-ordination in IT procurement as a whole with many schools even negotiating their own individual deals," says the document, Any changes necessary to the Home Computing Initiative (a tax exemption scheme for businesses loaning computers to employees) to make it more attractive to lower earners and to businesses to implement, would also be assessed, says the document. It is also clear that more schools would be encouraged to set up laptop leasing and loan schemes and several examples are quoted in the document, including one by Eggbuckland Community College, which leases laptops via a charitable fund set up by the college.

There would also be a drive to develop online content, including some for education. The document says: "The role of the BBC will be critical in broadband service delivery. The BBC has the resources to experiment in ways that the commercial market cannot."

There would also be plans for an electronic portfolio for lifelong learning and schools would be encouraged to provide online support for parents.

This, says the document, would help parents become more engaged with their children's learning and could open the way for an online dialogue between parents and schools. Teachers could also use online support services to keep in touch and collaborate. Rick Skett (left), managing director of Intel UK, which helped to develop the strategy outlined in the document, says: "The goals are realistic. These are far-reaching reforms and they certainly have the support of the IT industry."

A copy of the document can be obtained from: www.strategy.gov.ukwork_areasdigital_strategyindex.asp

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