A Digital Divide
It is a shocking fact that 9% of children in the UK, between 1.1 and 1.8 million, do not have a computer, laptop or mobile device in their home, according to research carried out by Ofcom.
This pandemic is shining a stark light on the gap in provision for families in lockdown. Ten months after the first national lockdown, with schools across England once again closed to most of their pupils due to the spread of the coronavirus, teaching for those at home is now fully online. However, it is still apparent that many students do not have access to a computer, laptop or data and some have been sharing one mobile phone between family members (which are often on pay as you go deals, with data costing up to £100 per day).
This digital divide is highlighting existing inequalities between households, with many pupils facing further disadvantage. Children in receipt of the Pupil Premium funding, designed to redress the imbalance between them and their more affluent peers, would normally receive additional support in school. They are now being further disadvantaged as they may not have support at home, or the space and resources to enable quality learning. The gap is widening, and many children are in danger of not achieving their potential.
Donated Laptops for Lockdown Learning
Matt Yarranton of Blisstech Solutions became aware of this issue, having been moved by news reports of children struggling to share limited technology. Worried about the potential waste of talent, he approached Darren Reynolds, headteacher at Lacon Childe School in Cleobury Mortimer, to discuss his idea of refurbishing donated laptops for lockdown learning, and to volunteer the services of his company.
As a result, the Cleobury Mortimer-based computer business and the school have teamed up to address this lack of access to digital technology for many disadvantaged children. As 19 per cent of pupils at Lacon Childe school did not have access to a suitable computer or mobile device, this was a significant issue. It is the shared aim of Blisstech Solutions and the school to offer a free laptop to any child who does not have one to enable them to access their schoolwork at home. This is a wonderful example of community collaboration at work.
Blisstech Solutions have set up a base in the secondary school where they are able to receive donated laptops and clear and refurbish them, ready to distribute to local families, living in Shropshire and neighbouring Worcestershire. A message on social media immediately prompted the donation of five laptops and an additional cash donation that is used towards the purchase of necessary parts. The school is part of The Shropshire Gateway Educational Trust, and the aim of Blisstech Solutions is also to support children in the associated primary schools, but more donated laptops are needed to make this possible.
More help is needed
Whilst national and local government are working hard to support schools in a rapidly evolving situation, there is clearly the need for additional help. The responsibility for ensuring that children don’t drop even further behind in their education during these difficult times is now falling to local communities and the voluntary sector.
Not having access to the right equipment is a real problem for students. The government has highlighted this issue and has extended the attendance at school to children with insufficient or no access to the internet or technology, in addition to those whose parents are key workers. This may disadvantage those children and families further as numbers in schools rise and they are at a greater risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. At Lacon Childe school, these children access the teaching in the same way as those at home, but they use the school computers. There are still pupils at the school who would benefit from receiving a free laptop for accessing the curriculum at home. Since launching the scheme in January, 30 laptops have been donated and 15 laptops have been tested, securely wiped and given out to students.
So, whilst the scheme has got off to a great start, extending its potential will require more donated laptops for lockdown learning. The laptops that are suitable for donation will ideally be less than ten years old (other minimum specifications, to ensure the equipment is adequate for use by children, are available on the website). Blisstech Solutions will securely wipe the laptops of any existing data, ensuring that everything is removed, and the security of donators is not compromised in any way. They will then update the machines by installing the CloudReady operating system that is based on Google ChromeOS and runs on low-level hardware. This ensures that students have access to everything needed for their lessons.
During this current pandemic, children have missed out on so many experiences normally offered by school, including interaction with their peers, and quality classroom learning. Mr Reynolds says that, although distance learning is working well, there is no substitute for being in the classroom. This “Donate a Laptop” scheme is trying to mitigate any further damage by ensuring that all children have the same access to online schooling as their peers. No child should be without the resources needed to learn and access the online teaching that schools have worked hard to provide. It would be like standing the child outside the classroom door and not allowing them in.
How to support the cause
The school and Blisstech Solutions are appealing to any local individuals or businesses who have redundant laptops to donate to the scheme so that they can be recommissioned for use by students who are still in need. The repurposed laptops are provided to families free of charge, and they are then theirs to keep, so the benefits will be long-lasting. For each child who receives one of these laptops, it will make a huge difference. They are also appealing for donations of money that will help cover costs. There is a link from the Blisstech’s website, to the GoFundMe page, ensuring absolute transparency. Any financial donations are not for profit and go towards funding additional resources, such as replacement hardware, logistics and storage or workshop costs.
Matt, himself a father and grandfather, believes that no child should be disadvantaged by the lack of essential equipment that is needed for remote learning in 2021. He needs your help to alleviate digital poverty.
For further details of how you can donate, or for minimum specifications of hardware donations, please go to the donate a laptop page on our website.