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8th September 2000 at 01:00
Anywhere Anytime Learning, the Microsoft-backed concept of education in which each student has a laptop, may have its doubters, but thousands of schools in the United States and more than 200 in Britain have embraced the idea.

The initiative originated in Australia in the early Nineties, and many schools have pursued AAL for some years.

One of the most successful is John Paul College, a 1,800 pupil co-educational Christian fee-paying school in Brisbane's southern suburbs. Steve Paul, the headmaster, says the laptops help the school to fulfil its policy of student-centred learning, giving them access to vast amounts of information and making classes more exciting and enjoyable.

"We see AAL as providing untold capacity for students to learn at their own pace and really realise our dream of true developmental learning," he says. He adds that students' achievements have increased in the nine years of AAL at the college, which opened in 1982.

Each pupil from Year 5 must own or lease a laptop. They cost $75 a month (pound;30) for the computer, on top of the $4,000 (pound;1,580) a year secondary and $2,800 (pound;1,100) primary fees. Students get a new machine every two to three years. The 10 staff who manage the network, repair machines and administer the leasing play a crucial role in supporting both students and teachers and have ensured the successful implementation of AAL.

As well, Aidan McCarthy, director of information and learning technologis, says there are learning technology co-ordinators to help the 200 teachers make the most effective use of hardware and software in the classroom, reduce the burden of administration and develop online curriculum materials.

"The secret is the staff and their professional development - it's always been the top priority here," he adds. "Without that AAL will not realise its potential."

The school, spread over 23 buildings, is introducing a wireless network. All students have an email address and Web page where they present their work. Pre-schoolers can email their parents, while Year 10 pupils design a website for their favourite author as an English assignment. Students can obtain Microsoft, 3Com and e-commerce qualifications and assist the technical staff as part of these courses.

John Paul College is the only school testing Microsoft's Web-based curriculum and assessment software in the world. It will soon introduce new software that allows online assessment and collaboration.

Laptops may not be the perfect solution, but the school shows how effective they can be with vision and the right support.

John Paul College

www.jpc.qld.edu.au Transforming Learning: an anthology of miracles in technology-rich classrooms, edited by Jenny Little and Bruce Dixon, one of the drivers of AAL, was published this year by the Kids Technology Foundation. ISBN 0-646-39537-8. For a report from the school visit www.tes.co.ukonline

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