As students all over the country return to school, we cannot forget that not all of those returning will do so on an equal footing.
‘The Digital Divide’ is one of the many issues that COVID-19 has highlighted within modern Britain. Disparities in internet access, especially for the elderly and low-income households, isn’t news. It has been a growing issue in the past decade. A study by Lloyd’s Bank showed that 22% of the population lack basic online skills.
But when schools began to shut earlier this year, around one million children and young people were left without proper access to the internet or devices. This left them without access to lessons and educational resources, effectively disconnecting them from school altogether. A large majority of these young people came from lower-income households.
The government’s failure to deliver on their promise of providing 230,000 laptops by 30 June is yet another example of young people being let down. This mess and the results crisis are both part of a pattern that doesn’t inspire confidence in the further plans to provide laptops and data coverage to shielding students this autumn.
This failure was felt in Bristol too: 1,300 laptops were provided for upwards of 3,000 students who were eligible for the scheme. However, by the time they had arrived, many schools had already loaned out their own equipment to those in need. And the schools who did put the laptops to use found that they weren’t set up, nor had they been provided with technical support.
While I am incredibly proud of how Bristol has come together in this crisis, it is too much to ask of our schools to keep loaning out surplus equipment. It should fall to the government to mitigate the impact of lockdown on educational attainment and inequality, by making sure schools are adequately supplied with the resources they need to guide their students through this difficult time.
The reality of this situation is that many are returning to school after months of little to no contact with their teachers. This will take both an academic and pastoral toll on students, threatening to exacerbate the already widening attainment gap.
Labour is pushing the Government to get a grip. There needs to be a package of both academic and pastoral support, including targeted tuition, emotional and wellbeing support and a modification of this year’s curriculum and exams. As we come out of this public health crisis, we need to do so looking out for those affected by the digital divide.
This blog was first drafted by sixth-former Ellie Drake during a work experience placement in Thangam Debbonaire’s office.