Free PCs and broadband for 20,000 kids

Suffolk and Oldham first to get government giveaway

Suffolk and Oldham first to get government giveaway

Thousands of children in England will receive free computers and access to broadband under government plans to bridge the digital divide.

From February 2009, kids in Suffolk and Oldham will benefit from a £30m pilot scheme, with the programme due to go nationwide late next year.

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Around 20,000 children could initially receive financial support to fund a computer, software, and internet access for one year - as well as three years of technical support.

The pilot is part of a £300m programme announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the Labour Party conference in September to bring broadband to children from low income and jobless families.

The initiative is being run by the government education tech agency Becta as part of the Next Generation Learning initiative.

Schools minister Jim Knight said the current economic climate should not reinforce social and academic divides that could put children from lower income families at an even greater disadvantage.

He added that the programme is not just about providing financial help but also "selling the educational benefits" of home internet access to those that can afford it.

As well as families who can't afford home broadband, the programme will also target those who can afford the tech but don't feel it has educational value, or have the internet but don't use it to benefit children in the household.

In a statement Knight said: "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."

Becta chief executive, Stephen Crowne, added "effective use of technology" can significantly boost academic achievement.

Parents wanting to redeem their grant will have to buy approved tech that carries the NextGenerationLearning@Home quality mark.

The government estimates around one million children are currently without home broadband access in England.