Personal laptops will have been given to more than one in ten secondary school pupils in Birmingham by the end of this academic year.

The computers, issued free but with a request for a cash donation from parents, have been given to pupils in the most deprived wards of the city in an attempt to bridge the "digital divide".

It represents the country's biggest drive to close the gap between the technological haves and have-nots within families and make sure all youngsters join the digital age.

By mid-January, 2,000 Birmingham secondary age pupils will have a brand new laptop to use at school and home. A further 2,000 will get one by the Easter term and 4,000 by the end of summer, making a total of 8,000 - more than a tenth of the city's 70,000 secondary school pupils.

The massive scheme secured a £5.7 million Government grant in May 2006, but eventually aims to be self-sustaining through voluntary contributions.

Ian McCall, director of the Birmingham e-learning Foundation - a charity set up six years ago to bridge the digital divide - said the laptop give-away was unprecedented.

He added: "There is nowhere in the country that is doing anything as big as this.

"There is a real feeling that what we are doing in Birmingham is quite far ahead of other parts of the country."

Secondary schools in the ten per cent most deprived communities of the city will be first to benefit in areas such as Handsworth, Washwood Heath, Castle Vale and Heartlands.

The programme is a joint venture between the Birmingham e-Learning Foundation and Birmingham City Council.

"The intention is to make sure the ten per cent of our most deprived children get a good start in life," said Mr McCall.

"This is all about the digital divide. It is to give these kids the opportunities that wealthier kids will have."

Last week the Government said it was committed to making sure all children have access to the internet outside school.

Currently there are 800,000 youngsters in England who are not online at home.

Schools Minister Jim Knight announced the creation of a task-force to look at how this can be achieved. It is expected to look at the Birmingham project with a possible view to rolling it out nationally.

Mr Knight said: "The so-called digital divide cannot be allowed to create and reinforce social and academic divisions.

"We need to come up with a sustainable solution which will work for future generations as well as this one, building on existing good practice rather than looking for a quick fix."

Under the Birmingham scheme, the parents of pupils getting a laptop are encouraged to donate between £6 and £10 a week, though there is no compulsion.

For tax reasons, the computers technically remain under ownership of the school until their value depreciates to zero at which point they fully belong to the pupil. Donations received from parents go towards providing laptops for future children.

The Birmingham e-learning Foundation and council chiefs hope eventually that the scheme will be extended right across the city.

Councillor Les Lawrence (Con Northfield), Birmingham's Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, said: "Offering pupils in Birmingham universal access to computer and internet technology is one of our key priorities, especially those whose families do not traditionally use computers at home."