Almost two million children in the UK do not have access to a laptop, desktop computer or tablet at home, with warnings that the digital divide will lead to more inequality and further damage children’s education.
The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield wants pupils who do not have access to remote learning equipment, to be designated “vulnerable” and be “offered a priority place in school”. Ofcom said up to 1.8 million children in the UK lack access to devices required for remote learning. It is increasingly important given children’s lessons will be online for the duration of the lockdown, which will be until mid-February in England at the earliest.
Longfeld tweeted: “With the new lockdown underway, children need the tech & data capacity in place this week. Those children who haven’t got the tech should be offered a priority place in school from Monday. The alternative is that they are not able to learn which is just not acceptable.”
Longfield – whose role provides “unique statutory powers to stand up for the rights of children and to seek out any hidden issues affecting the most vulnerable” – called on companies to provide free data capacity for children and families “at this time of emergency”.
440,000 new devices may arrive after end of school year
The department of education announced in late December it had purchased 440,000 more devices to give disadvantaged children access to the internet and online classes. However, sources said the devices may not arrive from Asia for many months, perhaps even “only after the end of the school year”, reports the Telegraph.
The new purchases will eventually take the total number of laptops and tablets provided by the government to more than one million children – which is still 800,000 short of the number that Ofcom states do not currently have access to a PC, laptop or tablet at home.
Paul Brand , ITV’s political correspondent said: “Studies estimate that only 50% of those on the lowest incomes have an internet connection. In the last lockdown some parents had to stop their children using 3G/4G data in homes due to pay-as-you-go costs.”
Brand reminded that “many children also have no quiet place to work” and surmised: “Huge challenges.”
Rayner – ‘Government has failed a generation’
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour party tweeted: “The government has failed a generation of young people – they have had 9 months to make sure that every child can access remote learning at home,”
Elsewhere Rayner calls on the government to live up to their pledges to support vulnerable children, stating: “Last April, education secretary Gavin Williamson promised laptops for children to enable them to access online learning. He failed to deliver and then in October, he cut the allocation of laptops for deprived children.
“No child should be stopped from learning simply because their family is struggling.
“That means laptops for all students who need them, and ensuring every child has internet access and the government must demand tech companies waive data fees for disadvantaged children accessing remote learning.
Back on Twitter, Rayner added that she will be working with schools in her constituency “to demand that the government keeps all students learning”, and later linked to a website where schools can request free mobile data increases for families who don’t have broadband at home and who cannot afford extra data.
Local authorities and trusts can also request extra mobile data for children and young people who do not have fixed broadband at home, cannot afford additional data for their devices, or who are experiencing disruption to their face-to-face education.
Anne Alexander, the senior political producer for ITV’s Good Morning Britain questioned the number of local schemes where people could donate old laptops. “There’s still the issue of getting online, but it would be a small help and relatively fast (with security checks to make sure the devices don’t have any inappropriate content),” tweeted Alexander.
Conservative MP’s ‘breathtaking arrogance’
Meanwhile, the Conservative housing minister Christopher Pincher MP – who has responsibilities for sorting out the cladding scandal – has been branded “breathtakingly arrogant” and “truly out of touch” for recommending people ward off the Covid blues with a £170 bottle of champagne.
In his regular wine column for The Critic magazine, Pincher wrote: “It is ideal for lifting the spirit and lighting up a darkening winter afternoon.
“So, if you have the chance, or the wherewithal, to buy a bottle, these bubbles will brighten your family bubble and provide an alternative vaccine until the real thing provides more permanent inoculation against the memory of last year.”
“With every dot and comma of this column, Chris Pincher has shown how truly out of touch and breathtakingly arrogant he is,” said shadow minister for housing, Mike Amesbury who called on the minister to “stick to his day job”.
“While leaseholders were having sleepless nights about how they would find thousands of pounds to make their flats safe from dangerous cladding and more than half a million in rent arrears or temporary accommodation struggling to make ends, the housing minister was recommending they buy bottles of champagne costing £170,” said Amesbury.
The Labour MP added: “Chris Pincher should be fixing the massive problems facing leaseholders and those in desperate need of good quality, affordable and truly sustainable housing, not writing articles about luxury wines.”