Village joins the modem world

21st April 1995 at 01:00
The community hall in the village of Bere Alston, Devon, is usually home to mothers-and-toddlers' groups and local societies. But now it is the base for a trial distance-learning link with Plymouth College of Further Education 12 miles away.

Two computer terminals with a video and modem link enabled the first 20 students to talk face to face with their tutors and send and receive written work. Tutors can supervise their students' work from the Plymouth centre.

The link is seen as a way of overcoming transport difficulties for many students in rural areas. If successful the system could be extended to other villages.

Hilary Kilborn, manager of the open access centre at Plymouth, said the college had established similar links for disabled students working from home. Setting up a base in a village was a logical extension.

She said: "This kind of technology is bound to become more widely available and it opens up the opportunity for people in rural areas to study. In Devon and Cornwall there is a huge potential."

The 20 Bere Alston students there is already a waiting list will study for a computer literacy and information technology qualification. The course started last month and the centre is open three days a week with a cr che and play-worker available.

Funding for the link has come from the college, Devon and Cornwall training and enterprise council, the Rural Development Commission and Bere Ferrers parish council. Lorna Spencer, who did the same course at Plymouth, came up with the idea.

Mrs Spencer, who lives in Bere Alston, said: "People living in outlying villages have become something of a rural underclass in terms of education and training. The main problem is transport. This project will hopefully give people good training who wouldn't otherwise receive it."

She said it had taken 18 months of hard work by volunteers to get the project started and she hoped the learning centre would eventually be able to offer courses in other subjects. Plymouth college is already developing teaching materials.

One student, Margaret Davies, explained why she and and her husband Harry had signed up: "We know nothing about computers but we want to become computer literate."

She said they had a small computer at home and she wanted to use it in her work as a regional representative for a company which sells education materials to parents. Her husband had enrolled at the college but had now transferred to avoid the difficult drive to Plymouth.

"I was apprehensive at first, but I have been impressed with the technology and I am confident now. We are fortunate to have this opportunity," she said.

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