Tech giants America Online and Dell are teaming up to expand Dell's TechKnow program and provide 5,000 middle-school students with free PCs and Internet access.
The TechKnow program for low-income or otherwise needy middle schools lets students earn the right to keep a PC by successfully completing a class that teaches them about the inner workings of a computer. They also have to meet certain standards regarding attendance and grades. The PCs are refurbished Dell desktops fitted with AOL's Internet access software and a year's worth of free AOL Internet access.
Dell and AOL said that the PCs given to students as part of the TechKnow program may be the first or only machines in some households.
"Making sure all of our students are equipped with 21st century skills means making sure all students have access to technology," said Michael Dell, Dell's chairman, during a press briefing Monday afternoon.
TechKnow was started in 1998 as a program at Denver public schools, according to Dell. It went national in 2002 and since July, 2001, has awarded 3,000 PCs to-date to students in 78 schools over 21 districts.
The class associated with the TechKnow program takes place after school and provides 40 hours of training on how to build a computer, troubleshoot hardware problems, upgrade hardware and install software. It also provides instruction on Internet use and safety.
Dell and AOL could also gain, if students become miniature computer evangelists and encourage others to use PCs and the Internet. And the program makes use of PCs that, while still adequate for students' needs, might otherwise have been retired, the companies indicated.
Dell said it has spent about $1 million developing the TechKnow curriculum, training instructors and providing computer hardware. Local businesses are invited to sponsor the program as well.
TechKnow programs are currently under way at school districts including Alameda, Calif., Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Nashville, Tenn., the PC maker said.
More information on the program and how schools can apply can be found on Dell's Web site.