Computer for every child programme kicks off

A 300 million project to ensure every child in the UK has access to a home computer and the internet has kicked off with a pair of pilots in Oldham and Suffolk.

The Home Access pilots will start in 2009, and offer funding to low-income families to purchase computers and broadband access. It was previously suggested the vouchers would be worth 100 to 700 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the plan last month.

The government's tech body Becta said the programme will ensure every child aged between five and 18 has home internet access within the next four years, adding that over a million currently do not. The full roll-out starts next autumn.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said it wasn't just about supplying tech, but convincing parents that computers are as essential to learning as pens and paper. "There has to be a culture where families see home access is as important as making sure their children have pen, paper and calculator at school... The bottom line is that having home access to the internet or a computer is no longer an optional extra for school work it is fast becoming essential."

Some 30 million is being spent on the year-long pilots, as well as offering funding to local councils to find out which children don't have broadband or a computer.

The funding will also support the development of a quality-badge programme for approved suppliers, with the aim of making it easier for parents to shop for suitable devices. More details on the supplier programme will be available next month, Becta said.

The Home Access funding will be available to families with incomes below 15,500 and will be provided through local authorities. "There will be financial help for those eligible families who are struggling to buy the equipment and practical help for families to use the internet more," said Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta.

"There's no question that technology plays an increasing part of our everyday life at home and school," he added. "What we need to ensure is that every learner has an equal chance to tap into the benefits of the internet to enhance their learning and the Home Access programme seeks to do just that, by offering this opportunity to all learners."