Camden and Haringey councils renew pleas to bridge digital learning divide

Sophie Symes, a year 7 pupil at Knutsford Academy in Cheshire, studies at home as many schools switc

Councils fear some pupils are being left behind by home-schooling - Credit: PA

Camden and Haringey councils have renewed their pleas for schoolchildren to get internet access and laptops for online learning to close the "digital divide".

This comes as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced 300,000 extra laptops and tablets for disadvantaged children in England, after headteachers and councils reported disadvantaged families were suffering with poorer access to remote learning. 

Last month, Haringey Council launched the digital divide appeal with Haringey Giving to provide laptops and internet access to pupils in the borough. 

The town hall said it had helped provide more than 500 laptops to children and young people, mobile internet devices to 25 families and more than 150 smartphones to care leavers and other at-risk residents.  

Cllr Kaushika Amin, Haringey Council’s education chief, told the Ham&High: “We’re continuing to support our children and young people as best as we possibly can to ensure they’re able to access remote learning.  

Cllr Kaushika Amin

Cllr Kaushika Amin - Credit: Haringey Council

“However, despite the best efforts of the council and our schools, we know there are some pupils and students who simply don’t have regular access to laptops and wifi at home.” 

Park View student Mahmudul said: “During lockdown, I found my online learning very difficult as I had to share my laptop with my other siblings and there were days when I couldn’t use it and my wifi was very unreliable and would crash on me.” 

Camden Council said more than 5,000 laptops were distributed by the Department for Education (DfE), individual schools, crowdfunders and businesses to children and young people in Camden over the last seven months.

Camden Learning raised nearly £62,000 through crowdfunding for 272 laptops, and the council distributed more than 240 dongles and wifi vouchers from the DfE to pupils.

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The council added it was working with broadband providers such as Community Fibre to ensure students can access the internet.  

Cllr Angela Mason, Camden Council’s education chief, told this newspaper: “Safety and health comes first, and we support the decision to close schools until we can be certain that in-person learning is not a risk for children, school staff and parents.  

“But until then, government needs to step in to ensure all children can access remote education and continue to learn.” 

Cllr Angela Mason, "Coronavirus is holding up to us an image of ourselves and our society."

Cllr Angela Mason - Credit: Archant

Earlier this month, Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh said that according to Ofcom, between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children (9 per cent) don’t have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, and over 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection. 

Last week, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London Luisa Porritt demanded mobile networks give children in need free access to home-learning websites.  

Ms Porritt said zero-rating, meaning providing access to certain websites for free, was already provided for the government’s public health website and should be extended to educational websites like BBC Bitesize. 

Cllr Porritt added: “Now it’s time to ensure all children, regardless of their household income or level of internet access, can get the best education possible over the coming weeks.”