58,000 kids to get a free little helper
ALL pupils are to get handheld computers from the age of ten at schools across the Lothians under plans to boost their appetite for learning.
The children will also be given free wireless internet access so they can log on whether they are at school, home or out and about.
The personal digital assistants (PDAs) would be given to 58,000 pupils, from primary six upwards, as well as 6000 teachers.
The four Lothian councils plan to launch a charitable trust, which could bid for European Union and National Lottery funding, to help cover the 25 million-plus expected cost.
Edinburgh's education leader, Councillor Andrew Burns, said the benefits in terms of learning would be massive.
He said: "Only a small proportion of people in Edinburgh have broadband.
"This will allow children to get broadband at home and study at home so it will potentially have a huge impact and great benefits."
The main practical benefit is seen to be allowing pupils much freer access to the internet for research, as well as being able to log on to school web pages to check on homework and other information.
However, education leaders believe that giving children the chance to use something seen as "cool" will fire their interest in learning.
The plans have been drawn up following a trip to study a similar scheme in Philadelphia taken by council leader Ewan Aitken in 2004, when he was education leader.
Education chiefs have also studied the success of an initiative in Wolverhampton where pupils have been given PDAs.
There, children were generally found to do more work at home, get better results in maths and science, and even truant less. Many under-achieving pupils also caught up with their peers.
Children and staff at one Edinburgh high school and one of its feeder primaries are expected to be given the equipment to test out before the end of the year.
The Learning Hub pilot scheme will be restricted to one P6 and one S5 and cost 80,000. The schools involved have yet to be chosen.
Cllr Burns said: "I am delighted that this initiative, which began after a visit to the US, has reached this stage.
"It is extremely exciting that we are now looking to set up a charitable trust which would provide the funding to make this idea actually happen.
"There is still a lot of work to be done but I am confident we are well on our way to creating a very exciting new learning environment for children in Edinburgh and the Lothians."
The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has given the plans a cautious welcome, but warned many of the benefits may be only short-term.
Judith Gillespie, of the SPTC, said: "This technology will have a benefit but don't expect it solve every problem from here on in.
"If a child pays attention to something for a period of time, that will lead to improvement in whatever they're paying attention to.
"And if these PDAs help children do that I don't have a problem with them. But I don't think it will be a solution to everything - most of these gains will be short-term and it will get old quickly."
Adviser hails benefits of teaching revolution
THE man behind the idea of giving handheld computers to children in Wolverhampton believes the initiative will be a big success in Edinburgh.
Dave Whyley, learning consultant for Wolverhampton City Council, has been advising Edinburgh officials on how to introduce the scheme. He helped set up the scheme three years ago, which has seen personal digital assistants given out to children across the West Midlands city.
The devices cost 400 each and are paid for jointly by the council and the children's parents.
Mr Whyley said: "We've been advising Edinburgh. They've been shadowing what we're doing and what we've found out using these devices."
He added: "The children come into the school and are able to go on the net and access learning resources, such as educational podcasts.
"Our ambition is to move that outside the school environment and into the community." Mr Whyley believes the benefits of the scheme are evident in the improvement seen in pupils.
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