Essex Council invests in wireless laptops for every pupil

Essex County Council is buying thousands of laptops equipped with wireless technology for its schoolchildren in an attempt to...

Essex County Council is buying thousands of laptops equipped with wireless technology for its schoolchildren in an attempt to boost e-learning in school and at home.

Essex Council has struck a deal with Intel to buy laptops, which will be equipped with Centrino wireless Lan technology, with the ultimate aim of equipping every child who needs a PC for school and homework. The county has about 200,000 pupils, but the Essex roll-out is a gradual one which will see between 4,000 and 5,000 laptops allocated to children by the beginning of the next school year in September.

Essex is now evaluating which type of broadband technology it will need to install in its schools to provide the necessary bandwidth to support the 802.11b-based wireless Lans in the classroom. It is looking to choose a standardised access platform across sites.

Anthony Burdis, senior IT adviser to Essex County Council, said, "The laptops will have to last all day without being plugged in, so we chose Intel machines because the laptops are equipped with Speedstep technology which increases battery life."

Burdis said the cost of the laptops will be less than installing desktop PCs and rewiring buildings to provide connections. Many schools are old and new wiring would be difficult to install and pupils would not have the same mobility, he said.

Finance and insurance is being organised by the Essex E-Learning Foundation and parent teacher associations will help schools pay for each PC at between £4 and £5 a week over three years. Burdis said the machines would cost less than £1,000 each, including all software, and at the end of three years the machines would be replaced.

Children aged between five and six have already received laptop training, but the majority of the first users will be of late primary age or at secondary school level.

The school networks may also be made available to the wider community, including businesses. The plan is to "cluster" some of the networks together to allow groups of buildings to share the same bandwidth. This would allow organisations outside the education sector to connect to the internet, said the council.

Burdis said the expertise the IT department was garnering from the laptop roll-out would put it in a good position to play a consulting role for similar schemes at other local authorities.

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