PM urged to provide poorer children with hardware and internet access

Charities warn that the digital divide between rich and poor pupils will have "disastrous consequences"

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh has called on the government to address the digital divide and help poorer families to access the internet as schools remain closed due to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. 

The MP for Mitcham and Morden has sent a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to provide those "below the digital divide" with hardware and internet access, according to The Guardian

The letter has been signed by a host of unions, charities and MPs, and also the former prime minister Tony Blair. 

The government has made it clear that it wants schools to remain open. Education secretary Gavin Williamson has butted heads with teachers unions this week, with many calling for schools to remain closed in a bid to reduce the spread of the virus. Williams has said that moving to remote education should be a last resort, while a number of charities and other MPs have warned that students in poorer areas will struggle to study remotely without support. 

Ofcom figures, cited by McDonagh, estimate that around 9% of UK children have no home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet and that over 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection. 

"The internet has been a lifeline through the lockdowns, keeping us connected at a time when we have been forced apart," the letter reads, according to The Guardian. "But children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither the data nor the devices to log in from home when their schools close. In a country with free state education, no child's education should be dependent on their internet connection."

James Turner, the CEO of educational charity The Sutton Trust, told IT Pro that the digital divide between rich and poor pupils will have disastrous consequences for social mobility. Research conducted by the organisation found that 15% of teachers in the poorest schools reported that more than a third of their pupils did not have adequate access to a device, compared to only 2% in more affluent schools.  

"Fast forward eight months, and there are still issues with access to technology and data," Turner explains. "This is not merely a short term issue either. Lost learning due to a lack of digital resources will have implications for students that will last a lifetime.

"Siobhain McDonagh is right to call for further action to close the digital divide, building on the work the government has already started. With many schools closed, it is crucial that every child has the resources they need in order to continue their education from home, and quickly."

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