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Computers: Disadvantaged

Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what steps the Government have taken to widen accessibility to computers and the internet for low-income families since 1997. (180067)

The Government recognise the importance of closing the gap between the number of people with access to information technology and those without, commonly known as the ‘digital divide’.

Since 1997 we have run a range of education-related programmes to widen accessibility to computers and the internet for low-income families, and these have provided hardware, connectivity and training both into homes and into the local community. In 2001, for example, we opened the first UK Online centres to provide community level access to computers, the internet as well as advice and training in how to use them. There is now a network of over 6,000 centres across the country in libraries, community centres and other accessible buildings.

We also supported cross government initiatives such as the seven point action plan to close the digital divide identified in “Connecting the UK: The Strategy for a Digitally Rich Nation” and were one of the main contributors to the plan's national digital challenge for a region to give universal online access to local public services by 2008.

We have concentrated our efforts on young learners and in school the level of access has increased significantly. In a primary school for example, 19 children had to share one computer in 1997 whereas now there is one computer for every 6.2 children and through our extended schools’ programme and our support for the e-learning foundation we have helped schools to provide children with access beyond the school day.

In 2005 we started a £60 million Computers for Pupils programme to put ICT into the homes of the most disadvantaged secondary school pupils in the most deprived areas of the country and last year I established the Home Access Taskforce with representation from industry, education and the third sector. The Taskforce is due to report in April this year on how we might ensure that every family with 5 to 19-year-old learners in England has access to affordable ICT resources and support at home—and I recently announced an additional £30 million to provide further support under the Computers for Pupils programme until the task force proposals can be assessed and if appropriate, implemented.