HC Deb 22 June 1981 vol 7 cc13-4
17. Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what progress has been made with the schools microcomputer programme sponsored by his Department.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

As I have indicated to other hon. Members, progress is good on the "micros in schools" scheme, which has been in operation since 1 June. The response to the initiative has been enthusiastic and about 300 applications are being processed at the moment.

Mr. Carlisle

I welcome that programme. Will my hon. Friend say what is being done to ensure that every school knows about it? There is demand for the programme, but it will succeed only if every school knows exactly what is entailed.

Mr. Baker

I have written to every hon. Member asking them to bring the availability of the scheme to the attention of their secondary schools. I have also sent them a booklet about it. I hope that they have been encouraged to draw the scheme to the attention of their secondary schools. It is an important scheme, whose purpose is to have a microcomputer in every secondary school by the end of next year. About half of our schools do not have one. My Department is providing money for the purchase of two British microcomputers for that purpose. I hope that I have the support of every hon. Member in promoting that scheme.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does the Minister accept that, although the scheme is to be welcomed, there is a problem because of the diversification of computer equipment appearing in schools, and that in the main pupils can be taught only the engineering functions? More importantly, will he encourage schools to connect their computers to terminals and central processors to assist them with mathematical and other, more central, problems?

Mr. Baker

Some local education authorities already do that. We chose two British microcomputers, the Acorn and the 3802 made by Research Machines, because we thought it important to concentrate on two microcomputers. I know that some schools have other computers. However, we felt it important to concentrate on those of the programmes and the software. The reaction is encouraging. I hope to extend the scheme to other sorts of schools some time next year.

Mr. Dykes

Will my hon. Friend say what is the Government's policy towards local authorities that had already gone ahead before the official scheme was launched? Will he ensure that they are not penalised if they wish to install additional facilities or another computer?

Mr. Baker

Until the end of this year only schools that do not have a microcomputer will by eligible for the scheme. From the new year, I intend to extend the scheme to those schools and education authorities that already have microcomputers. I re-emphasise that the scheme is one of the most important initiatives in technological education that has ever been taken. I hope that within two or three years every boy or girl leaving school at 'the age of 16 or 18 will have "hands on" experience of working with a computer, because that sort of machine will dominate not only their working life but much of their leisure activities.