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Where new Labour's dreams come true

Christine Ireland wasn't prepared to wait for politicians to make up their minds about whether the Internet was a good thing or not.

While Tony Blair talks about Labour's plans to give every school access to the Internet and superhighways, the 4 to 7-year-olds at her school are already familiar with the network that is widely used in secondaries and universities. The head of Hazelmere County Infant School in Colchester said: "We are already doing what Tony Blair is dreaming of."

Since its introduction five weeks ago, the Internet is now the buzz word on the lips of the pupils, who regularly tap into what Mrs Ireland calls the "huge filing cabinet that stores information from around the world".

They converse with pupils as far away as southern Australia while working on a collaborative geography project that involved them counting the number of vehicles that pass the school gate within a 10-minute period.

As a result of an invitation to other pupils, via the Internet, to do the same, they have been gradually building up a picture of the traffic flow in other countries including the United States and Japan.

"The Internet stimulates discussions," said Mrs Ireland. "Writing to Internet penpals mean the pupils' language skills are improving all the time. Handwriting is still done in the classroom. This is just another medium we use to enhance the children's education."

So that the children do not lose sight of the importance of books, the computer is situated in the library and used with textbooks.

The Labour leader's announcement that BT and cable companies have agreed to cable schools for nothing doesn't impress them.

"What is the good of the wires without the equipment? It's like wiring up a house for television but not providing the set," said Peter Gobell, Hazelmere chair of governors, who has been charged with updating the school's Web page.

"What we need is a system similar to the one in the US where local telephone calls are free. Instead here we have BT rubbing its hands with glee every time a school goes on to the Internet. Fortunately Internet providers offer free connection to educational establishments," he said.

The Internet has had to overcome a number of obstacles with the issue of easy access to computer pornography leading the way. However, Mrs Ireland scoffs at the idea that children will find what little illicit material there is on the Net, and points out that it is much more likely that they will come across such material from other sources.

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