A scheme to roll out broadband internet access to hundreds of schools in Hertfordshire is set to revolutionise the county's approach to learning.
Cable giant NTL has signed a £22.6m contract with the Hertfordshire Grid for Learning (HGfL), part of the government's National Grid for Learning, to provide high-speed connectivity to more than 557 schools and colleges across the county.
The government has stated that all schools will have broadband by August 2006. "This initiative will ensure Hertfordshire meets the government's ambitious targets well ahead of schedule," said Dave Osborne, business services director at NTL, in a statement.
Schools involved in the initial stages of the roll-out are already seeing significant educational benefits. At St Luke's, a secondary school in Redbourn for children with moderate learning difficulties, broadband has enabled pupils to link up with other schools via video conferencing.
Deputy head John Warwick said: "The children find the technology fascinating and really engage in the experience. A significant number of our pupils lack confidence in communicating and this facility has made an enormous contribution to their language skills."
He added that children with hearing difficulties benefited particularly. "They love the visual aspect of it, as it encourages them to use sign language to communicate with their peers," he said.
St Clement Danes secondary school in Chorleywood is also using broadband for video conferencing. Last year, the GCSE Electronics and Technology class collaborated with pupils from schools across Europe to design and build a coin-operated labyrinth game as part of assessed coursework.
Martin Clarke, head of the school's technology faculty, said: "The students have been able to build their teamwork skills, not just in the classroom but with pupils from different countries.
"They have had the satisfaction of seeing the project grow from an idea through all its stages to completion. Without broadband and video conferencing this project wouldn't have been possible."
Faster download speeds are also allowing HGfL to deliver richer online content to schools, such as multimedia presentations for assemblies.
Schools are provided with software to protect students from inappropriate content, and teachers are able to monitor all internet access.
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