Leeds City College welcomes government laptop delivery as 'first step' in tackling digital divide
A Leeds college has taken delivery of more than 2,000 laptops as part of a national programme aimed at tackling the digital divide exposed during the pandemic.
When the first lockdown began last year, it quickly became apparent that many students did not have the luxury of their own laptop and would be unable to access online teaching.
It led to concerns about young people from disadvantaged backgrounds falling behind their peers and being unable to catch up, affecting their job prospects for life.
Leeds City College, like many other institutions, set to work at finding ways to help plug the gaps and get kit into the hands of students who needed it the most.
And in the last week, it has received 2,027 laptops after the Government extended its Get Help with Technology programme.
Bill Jones, the college's principal and deputy chief executive at Luminate Education Group , said: "Acquiring these laptops from the Department for Education (DfE) is a promising first step in tackling the digital divide and will undoubtedly support a huge number of our students to access remote learning.
“It supplements our investment of over £200,000 to provide additional devices and WiFi dongles for our students, alongside our initiative to gather devices from staff members, partners and members of the public, which has already resulted in an extra 70 laptops."
As part of a £400m investment, the DfE has extended the Get Help with Technology programme so that it is now open to disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds and disadvantaged 19 to 24-year-olds with Education, Health and Care Plans.
Schools with sixth forms, colleges and other further education institutions have been invited to order laptops and tablets to support those learners to access remote education, with education providers also able to access support for connectivity for students aged 16 to 19 where this is needed.
Institutions are responsible for distributing the laptops and tablets, with the DfE saying they are best placed to know which young people need access to a device.
Leeds City College had last month issued a plea for people to donate any spare devices as they waited for the Government to deliver on its pledge to provide a further one million laptops to disadvantaged students across the country.
Mr Jones said: "We’re now in a position whereby most of our learners will have a physical device, but our next challenge is overcoming the additional hurdles including limited internet access, the sharing of devices between families, unsuitable learning environments, and parents and carers who have limited knowledge on digital access.
"We will certainly continue looking at ways to overcome these barriers, including making sure our learners, parents and carers are aware of different funding schemes available, offering free digital courses and providing dongles."
Previously, schools, colleges and other providers used the 16-19 bursary fund to meet the tech needs of their most disadvantaged students.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know that young people in Leeds have wanted nothing more than to get back into the classroom and get on with their education this year. I know too that they understand the need to keep colleges closed to most students in order to get the virus under control.
“Until then, I want those studying in Leeds, Yorkshire and across the country to know that we are doing all we can to keep their education on track. That is why these 2,027 laptops – and all the deliveries like it – are so important, because each one means a young person who can get on with their education, despite all the challenges posed by this virus.”
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