Teachers to foot bill for `free' laptops

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The Independent Online
A ROW erupted yesterday over the Government's "computers for all" Budget commitment, as teachers revealed that the small print showed they would have to foot the bill.

Teachers said the details fell short of expectations, after it emerged that much of the pounds 20m allocated to fund laptops for teachers would be funding low-interest loans so staff could pay for their own computers.

They also criticised pilot plans to improve access to computers by allowing families in deprived areas to rent, for about pounds 5 a month, "recycled" machines discarded by private firms. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, announced the scheme yesterday, as he outlined the breakdown of the Government's pounds 400m package to modernise the skills of teachers and the workforce. Under the scheme, schools will be able to buy some computers to lend to staff, and teachers will be offered low- interest loans to pay for their own computers.

Government sources said the loans would offer a better deal than commercial finance packages to help teachers join the "information revolution".

Mr Blunkett said yesterday: "It is vital that we prevent a generation of children emerging as the information poor.

"Information and communication technology allow us all access to the future and will help underpin prosperity and equality of opportunity into the next century, for young and old alike."

But Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Teachers will be disappointed that their hopes, raised on Tuesday, are dashed on Thursday.

"Schools and teachers are critical to the information age, but teachers have to spend their own money on the tools of their trade."

Mr McAvoy also criticised the plans to offer deprived families old computers.

He said: "Out-of-date and discarded computers will not bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Instead, they will create the haves and the nearly-haves."

Government sources insisted the second-hand computers would be high-quality machines, obsolete for businesses but still acceptable for use in the home. "There's a lot of computers that businesses upgrade but are still perfectly good," a source said.

Mr Blunkett outlined the "computers for all" scheme as part of a drive to open 800 computer teaching centres in colleges, libraries and business across Britain, announced in Tuesday's Budget.

There will also be tax breaks to encourage employers to lend their staff members computers for use at home.

People who take out the Government's new Individual Learning Accounts will get 80 per cent discounts on basic computer training.