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BLACKBOARDS, exercise books and even some traditional lessons are being replaced by state-of-the-art computers as a technological revolution sweeps Britain's schools.

They are spending up to pounds 200m a year on computers and communications technology in a drive to equip British education for the 21st century.

Children at some schools are already submitting homework by e-mail, after replaying their lessons at home over the internet.

Multimedia computer displays which beam computer-generated pictures into classrooms are replacing traditional blackboards, allowing teachers to download diagrams and videos from the internet in front of classes, or to set up live video links with students abroad.

Blackboard notes can be saved to let children revise virtual lessons on a computer screen at home.

Increasingly sophisticated software designed to act as a virtual teacher already leads many children through "cyber lessons". Advanced internet searches are also replacing conventional reference books with children turning to computers as an important source of information.

Experts predict that every child could eventually have a pocket-sized PC, with internet, e-mail and possibly a video link for instant access to information, virtual lessons or an electronic homework helpline.

Ministers believe teachers are "in the vanguard of the information age" and have put educational technology at the centre of their drive to raise school standards.

The Government is spending pounds 235m of National Lottery money on a programme to train all 450,000 teachers in the use of advanced information technology. This year, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, launched a pounds 23m programme to equip 10,000 teachers and head teachers with laptop computers.

Ray Fleming, head of secondary schools at Research Machines, the largest supplier of educational technology in Britain, said: "While there are lots of schools which do not make information technology a priority and have 10-year-old equipment, there are others using a lot of technology to get every single benefit they can in the classroom.

"Over the next five years we will see the development of sturdy computers that pupils can stick in their satchels and take home, but which will give them access to all the facilities of their school.

"The teacher will change from being a sage on the stage to being a guide on the side."

Sophisticated interactive teaching software, designed to tailor lessons to pupils' abilities, is already "teaching" around 80,000 pupils.

But Professor Stephen Heppell, head of the Ultralab centre for educational technology at Anglia Polytechnic University, said the development of "electronic teachers" was worrying.

"You have to use the computer as a tool, not as a teacher," he said. "We have to be moving towards computers in every satchel or every backpack. Pupils do not use pens all the time, but they are omnipresent and we are moving to the same situation with computers. Schools could be smaller. We will still have to have teachers, but our research shows that community learning over the wire works."

Professor Heppell said students were using the technology and working with industry experts to do A-Level telecommunications in small groups. He said: "There is a question of access. Some people will not be able to afford the pounds 150 computers will cost, and we will have to give those children the equipment."

Classroom teachers have seen the potential of high technology, but are concerned that traditional teaching methods could be lost.

Ian Draper, who is a national executive member of the National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers, said: "People worry that pupils will spend a lot of time at school and at home looking at computer screens.

"In my own school I have a computer at the back of my history class where pupils can use the word processor or look at a CD-Rom. But there's a need for basics as well, like reading, discussion and classwork."