Hard-up kids to get free computers

THOUSANDS of the most disadvantaged children in Suffolk are to be offered free computers and internet access in a multi-million pound government giveaway.

Josh Warwick

THOUSANDS of the most disadvantaged children in Suffolk are to be offered free computers and internet access in a multi-million pound government giveaway.

Following proposals announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month, hard-up families unable to fork out for IT equipment will be given PCs, laptops, software and broadband.

The £300million Home Access to Technology initiative, officially launched today, has been devised to boost children's learning away from the classroom.

The pilot scheme is only operating in Suffolk and Oldham in Lancashire.

Ministers hope it will help to close the achievement gap between those from rich and poor backgrounds.

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Suffolk County Council leader Jeremy Pembroke, who was at Parkside Pupil Referral Unit in Ipswich to launch the venture, said: “There are 8,000 to 9,000 families who will be entitled to a free computer in Suffolk.

“The scheme will provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds with an equal opportunity to benefit from a much wider learning experience.

“That Suffolk has been selected for the pilot is a tremendous feather in the cap for the county council.”

Tim Wetten, ICT project lead at Suffolk County Council, added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Suffolk - that's why we grabbed this with both hands.

“We want to be the first out there to ensure every child has online access because we know it enhances their learning.”

The Home Access to Technology programme will effectively begin in February, when families can apply for equipment.

Following an eligibility means test, families will be given special debit cards which can be used at a number of major IT outlets.

Grants will be provided to allow families to buy an “approved home access package” which will include a computer or laptop, basic software and broadband access for one year.

The programme will be rolled out nationally next autumn with every five to 19-year-old in England having internet access by 2011.

Currently, around 35 per cent of families have no internet access.

IT suppliers will be invited to apply for approved supplier status, with those given the go-ahead announced in January.

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