LISBON Portugal's Socialist government began the roll-out on Tuesday of 500,000 ultra-cheap laptops for school children in a programme that could be extended to Venezuela, the government said.
The computers called 'Magellan' after the 16th-century Portuguese explorer will use Intel processors and will be offered to schools at a subsidized price of 50 euros.
The government hopes the Magellan will boost the computer literacy of school children aged 6 to 11, it said in a statement.
"The government's educational technology plan aims to make Portugal one of the top five most technologically advanced countries in Europe," it said.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates and members of his cabinet handed out the first 5,000 computers at schools across the country on Tuesday.
Portugal has some of the lowest school achievement levels in western Europe and Socrates has made boosting education a key priority. The government hopes the Magellan project will raise computer access at schools to two students per computer by 2010, up from five this year.
While the computer will be assembled in Portugal by a company called JP Sa Couto, it is based on Intel's Classmate PC, a cheap computer that has been adopted in various formats in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has visited Portugal several times in the past year and is due in Lisbon later this week, has said the Magellan could also be used in Venezuelan schools.
The computers will also go on public sale this week for 285 euros.
(Reporting by Axel Bugge; Editing by Dominic Evans)