EDUCATION MATTERS: Bridging the Digital Divide for Children; Plans Have Been Unveiled to Bridge the Digital Divide between Pupils in Birmingham by Providing Them with Free or Low-Cost Home Computers. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi Looks at the Background

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Byline: Shahid Naqvi

The latest proposals to provide home computers and internet access to all pupils across Birmingham revive a dream first articulated seven years ago.

The city's then colourful director of education Profes-sor Tim Brighouse flamboyantly announced he would give up pounds 2,000 of his pounds 80,000 salary to support a drive to supply every secondary school pupil with a laptops.

The scheme was dismissed at the time as a "headline grabbing gesture" by then opposition education spokesman, Councillor Les Lawrence (Con Northfield).

How ironic, then, that Coun Lawrence - now Birmingham's cabinet member for education - is spearheading a similar drive, albeit without a pledge of a personal cash donation.

Under the original bid, the authority set up a charity called the Birmingham yearning Foundation, which hoped to generate about pounds 3 million a year.

It also secured sponsorship from a number of high-tech, firms. But realising the dream proved a tall order to achieve.

Perhaps it was the estimated pounds 6 billion price tag of giving a laptops to all of the city's 47,000 secondary school pupils that proved the sticking point.

Today marks a new - and some might argue more urgently needed - push to ensure city youngsters are part of the internet age.

Since Prof Brighouse's original scheme, computers and the internet have become an even bigger part of everyday life.

Increasingly, everything from applying for a job and booking a holiday to communicating with friends, selling unwanted items and buying homes is done online.

The internet revolution, like global warming, has become a political issue. And as such, the spotlight is being put on the divide between the technological haves and have-nots.

With the internet increasingly used as a homework tool by youngsters for research, the educational implications are obvious.

Ministers claim to be well aware of the ability of "digital exclusion" to inflict even greater social and economic disadvantage upon those who already face the biggest hurdles to success.

Towards the end of last year, the Department for Education and Skills launched a pounds 60 million initiative called Computers for Schools, providing cash for local authorities to help deprived youngsters get online. …