“A problem that will not go away after the vaccine has been rolled out” - warnings over effects of digital divide in Leeds

The digital divide that has opened up in education throughout Leeds and the UK is an issue that will not go away when a vaccine is rolled out, warns the city council’s education spokesman.

By Emma Ryan
Monday, 7th December 2020, 6:00 am

While the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted issues of digital inequality in Leeds between deprived and more affluent families, Coun Jonathan Pryor says access, or lack of, to the internet and tech equipment, such as laptops and computers, will also lead to children already at a disadvantage falling further behind and being less prepared for life and the world of work.

He praised the introduction of the Leeds Tech Angels scheme and said if it wasn’t for such initiatives and people stepping up to fill the gap - many children would struggle to learn at all.

It is asking businesses and employers in Leeds to donate unused laptops and tech equipment to young people across the city who are not lucky enough to have any at home that they can use to learn.

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This issue of children and young people having access to laptops and internet provision to learn goes beyond the coronavirus pandemic says Leeds' education spokesman.

The Yorkshire Evening Post backed campaign to find ‘Leeds Tech Angels’, is being led by a recently established group, Digital Access West Yorkshire, with funding from Leeds Community Foundation and support from Ahead Partnership, Leeds City Council and Zero Waste Leeds.

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Read More: YEP backs launch of Leeds Tech Angels scheme

He said the gap was exacerbated by the north south divide, like it was with the summer exams controversy.

Coun Pryor said: “If they are isolated more in the north and people have access to less technology we will only see how that divide is going to widen even further. On top of that, the government is saying children can learn from home but cutting laptop provision so I am not sure how they think that will work.

Coun Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council spokesman for Education and Young People.

“If you parents are able to spend time with you learning and providing laptops, your experience will be so much different to where your parents are working multiple jobs, can’t pay for the equipment. They might even be in the same class but the learning experience will be very different . You can’t solve everything in one go but taking laptops away is huge.”

The fall out from the ‘digital divide’ and inequalities among children and young people having access to technology and learning, stretches far beyond coronavirus and a world-wide pandemic says the councillor.

Coun Pryor added: “Everything is done using technology now, from banking to ordering a takeaway. Making sure that children have digital literacy now is an issue that goes beyond coronavirus and we need to make sure that they are ready for the world of work.

“When I was at school it was very different, there was one computer per class room and you might have a go on it at some point during the week. But now work, life - everything is done through screens. If they are going through school with that taken away, they are not preparing them for the world of work or life ahead.

Ben McKenna with donated laptops and the Old Fire Station in Gipton which is a drop-off point.

“This is not a problem that will go away after the vaccine has been rolled out.”

It comes as the issue has been aired in both parliamentary houses this week.

Four questions were put to the government in the House of Lords on Thursday evening which asked it to publish (a) the total and (b) the percentage of schoolchildren in (i) England and (ii) Leeds currently without home internet access.

Three further questions asked the Government to publish (a) the total and (b) the percentage of schoolchildren (i) England and (ii) Leeds currently without access to a laptop at home; how many laptops were promised by the Department for Education to schools (i) England and (ii) Leeds during the covid-19 outbreak and how many were delivered, and what steps are being taken to (a) procure and (b) deliver (i) laptops and (ii) other home internet access to disadvantaged students in Leeds during the covid-19 outbreak.

The government has 14 days to reply.

Also, during a debate in the House of Commons it was stated that the Government delivered 340,000 laptops and tablets and 51,000 4G wireless routers, and spent £195m trying to make sure that children and families who needed it most had the connectivity they needed when many of the schools were closed.

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