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The digital divide in London schools

We were privileged to be joined by Mariam for her 2 week work experience in July. As part of her experience with Community TechAid Mariam created this report about the digital divide in schools as well as her own experience as a student in south London.

By Mariam Kamara

The digital divide is defined as a gap between those who have ready access to digital technology when they choose, in comparison to those who do not. These types of technologies include (but are not limited to) smartphones, computers and the internet. Throughout the course of the pandemic people were made to quickly aware of the true importance of having access to the internet. For those fortunate enough to already have access to this important service, it was simply just strange adjusting to things moving online, however for those who didn’t, it meant being cut off from the outside world and being isolated, unable to access vital services. It is estimated that 9% of households containing children did not not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet (Ofcom survey carried out between January and March 2020).

How has the pandemic affected the need for digital access for students:

Throughout the pandemic the entire population faced disruption to their daily lives with students in particular feeling the brunt of this as schools shut their doors. The majority, if not all of the remote-teaching offered by schools required the internet as well as the need for device access. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds experienced the greatest disruption to their education due to no fault of their own, as they were less likely to have the vital access to devices and internet connections which was necessary for home learning. This is evident from an April 2020 survey of 4559 children carried out by the UCL Institute for Education that found that one in five of those eligible for free school meals had no access to a computer at home. A report conducted in June 2020 by the Education Endowment Fund found that the school closures were likely to widen the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.

How has access to computers in schools changed the need in homes (post-pandemic):

The reopening of schools and normal services has not meant a full return to how life was pre-pandemic and in fact simply highlighted the sheer importance in closing the digital divide. The use of technology has transformed education with many things moving to online platforms such as ‘Google Classroom’ where classroom and homeschooling resources are posted by teachers. For students who lack access to these platforms it plainly means that they are placed at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers in terms of these resources and support they have made available to them. These changes have not only affected students, but their parents as well, for example with schools moving to online platforms for parents evenings meaning parents are missing out on hearing what additional support their kids may need due to being on the wrong side of the digital divide. The struggle to find the necessary resources for their children’s education has evidently caused a lot of distress for many parents with one parent saying “It’s not fair for a mother of four kids to be put in this situation” (more of her story can be read here).

What support is there for those who have no access to the internet or a device?

The Government has announced the ‘Get Help with Technology (GHwT) service which claims "will provide an additional 500,000 laptops and tablets for children and young people throughout autumn and winter 2021 to 2022 to support their education and help keep them connected to peers and professionals". However, through this scheme the laptops and tablets will be owned by schools, trusts, local authorities or further education providers and will only be lent to those who need them most. This is only a temporary fix to this wider problem as waiting for devices to be allocated to students through government institutions, who have to wait for the government to approve their eligibility, can take an awful amount of time people do not have, and once allocated there is no guarantee that these laptops can be kept for the long term. Instead, local authorities and communities have decided to take matters into their own hands and have set up schemes and charities supporting those in need. For example here in the capital, Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London) launched a task force which has managed to provide 200,000 low-cost laptops for schools.

My thoughts

Although I am fortunate enough to be on the ‘right side’ of the digital divide, I can truly empathise with those who are through no fault of their own struggling with technology access. During the lockdown me and both of my sisters were expected to attend online classes, but not enough devices to do around. Fortunately, my youngest sister's school was offering laptops to those who needed them. After school had returned to physical classes her school had requested for all the laptops to be returned back. Although my sister no longer needed the device, it made me wonder how those who truly need the access would manage to cope. Many schools have moved to online platforms such as ‘Google Classroom’ for posting resources and homework and without having access to these it would truly be imposbbile to have the same schooling experience as your peers as you’d be missing out on large chunks of vital information and resources. Whenever my laptop breaks, it can honestly feel very stressful having to share our resources with my family, so imagine how it would be if we didn’t have any access at all. What

Community TechAid is doing for society is simply admirable and highlights the sheer importance of digital access to all.



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