Wi-fi scare puts laptops in shade

21st September 2007 at 01:00
Technology health fears overshadow 'computers for all' scheme

PLANS TO give pupils free laptops were looking increasingly vague this week as safety fears grew over the use of wi-fi computer technology, already used widely in Wales's schools.

A commitment to give free lap-tops to pupils under a pilot scheme is proposed in the Coalition government One Wales policy document, originally a Plaid Cymru idea hailing from its pre-election manifesto which was published eight months ago.

However, Ysgol Pantycelyn, Llandovery this week banned pupils from using new wi-fi laptops following concerns over their safety. Other schools are expected to follow as a UK-wide campaign to ban wi fi use in schools mounts.

Meanwhile, the government refused to give a timescale for its laptop pilot scheme or comment on plans for safety investigations.

Former teacher Judith Davies, whose daughter attends Ysgol Pantycelyn, has been leading the campaign at the school. It was confirmed this week that a new code of practice for using laptops in the county's schools will be drawn up.

Concerns surrounding its use include the potential effects of microwave radiation from transmitters including headaches, tiredness, memory and concentration loss. There are also fears it could cause cancer long term.

Ill-health has not been reported at Ysgol Pantycelyn, but the ban was enforced following complaints.

Headteacher Hywel Pugh said: "We decided to switch off the wi-fi units. I think a new code of practice is an excellent idea."

The controversial Plaid Cymru policy to provide laptops for every pupil in Wales has not proved a popular one with some heads.

Brian Lightman, speaking as head of St Cyres School in the Vale of Glamorgan, claimed in June that it was a simply a "headline-grabbing" gimmick.

Other safety issues, such as children being groomed by paedophiles and playground muggings, have also been raised.

Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesperson, could not give any more detail on the plans this week.

She said: "The terms and conditions, the timetable and the financing for this pilot laptop scheme are for the One Wales government to determine. It will, I am sure, take into account all worries regarding aspects of safety."

The Assembly government refused to comment.

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