The government today opened 1,200 centres that provide access to computers and the Internet to help bridge the digital divide.
The Department of Education and Employment (DfEE) has earmarked £5 million to support the centres that are based in a variety of locations from churches and colleges to libraries and companies.
With help from trained staff, members of the public can learn to access the Internet, send e-mails and use applications such as spreadsheets. Speaking exclusively to Computer Weekly magazine this week, the minister for learning and technology Michael Wills said the government especially wanted to reach the "information have-nots." He pointed to research that shows one in three in the top social classes have home Internet access, but only one in 50 of the lowest level.
"Older people and those from ethnic minorities also use [the Internet] less. Unemployed people, lone parents, the over 50s and people in deprived areas … must not be left out," said Wills. The minister added that the online centres would be a stepping-stone to more structured training.
"I am keen to encourage activities that provoke and support people's curiosity about IT… Gradually, this may lead people into more traditional learning and more formal training courses," he said.
In a second phase of the project, the DfEE plans to provide funds to 250 organisations to open up a further 1,050 UK online centres, in addition to the 1,200 already established.
Education and employment secretary David Blunkett has also launched http://www.worktrain.gov.uk , a public service site that provides information on job vacancies and training opportunities.
The DfEE has designed Worktrain to be easy to use, especially for those with little online experience. The DfEE worked with the FI Group to develop the site.