Government scheme fails to close digital divide

The Children’s Commissioner has issued a damning indictment of the Government’s scheme to make laptops and 4G routers available to children unable to access on-line learning during the pandemic.

The £100 million package was to fund laptops and 4G wireless routers to be sent to vulnerable pupils with social workers, care leavers and disadvantaged Year 10 students. However there were just 200,000 devices and 50,000 routers up for grabs. This compares to the 540,000 children in groups currently eligible for the scheme, meaning that only 37% of these could be allocated a device. 

Furthermore, there are children which the scheme did not target whose needs has been overlooked. This includes disadvantaged children in every year group apart from year 10 – around 1.34 million children, on the basis of those eligible for free school meals. Ofcom estimate that between 1.14m and 1.78m children in total in the UK have no home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, meaning that the scheme only targeted between roughly a third and a half of children who definitely needed one. The scheme provided laptops to 7 in 10 disadvantaged year 10s. For it to have provided laptops to 7 in 10 disadvantaged children in all other year groups, it would have needed an additional 940,000 laptops.

Children’s Commissioner’s report

ACERT believes that poorer Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils and those living in remote and excluded areas, will suffer disproportionately. Family size, parental educational disadvantage, insecure accommodation and prejudice can all contribute to difficulties in them receiving support.

It is a silver lining that during this time the education profession has accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge about how to make the best use of technology to support children to learn, both in and out of the classroom. Once the immediate crisis is over, these lessons should be captured and a strategy is put in place to invest in effective online infrastructures and high quality training for all children and staff.