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Thu, 2 July 2020

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No child should miss out on their education because they are on the wrong side of the digital divide

No child should miss out on their education because they are on the wrong side of the digital divide

We can all agree that access to the internet has been a lifeline these past few months. But it isn’t a lifeline available to all, says Siobhain McDonagh MP | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

The Government must ensure that any child who is entitled free school meals has internet access and adequate devices at home.

On Tuesday, Marcus Rashford scored the most important goal of his career, using his platform to highlight that food poverty isn’t an issue that’s restricted to school term time.

It was a campaign that any left-winger wearing red would be proud of. 

But poverty impacts more than nutrition. With schools closed, it’s not just lunch that disadvantaged children are missing out on. It’s connectivity. 

Throughout the lockdown, millions of children have started the day with Joe Wicks’ online exercise class before turning to schoolwork sent remotely by their teachers.

Some have even joined their classmates through online platforms like Google, Teams or Zoom. And though time away from friends and family is hard for us all, these video applications mean face to face contact is just a click away.  

We can all agree that access to the internet has been a lifeline these past few months. But it isn’t a lifeline available to all. 

The lockdown has exposed the digital divide in our society. At least 700,000 disadvantaged children are without proper access to computers or the internet.

Those children who cannot access the same resources as their classmates will find themselves even further behind when they return to school.

Unless we intervene quickly, I fear that many may never catch up. 

BT stepped up this week, offering six months of free internet access for some of the most disadvantaged, a lifeline for up to 10,000 families.

But what about the other children on the wrong side of the digital divide?

What about those who don’t live near a BT hub?

What about those who don’t have adequate devices at home to access this offer? 

The Government talks about levelling up, but new research by the Sutton Trust reveals that in the most deprived schools, 15% of teachers report that more than a third of their students would not have adequate access to an electronic device for learning from home. 

What will it take before we all agree that no child’s education should be dependent on their internet connection? 

This cannot be a problem that rumbles on through the Summer. By September, the majority of children will have been away from school for six months – and counting. No child should miss out on their education just because they are on the wrong side of the digital divide. That’s why I am calling on the Government to ensure that all children entitled to free school meals have internet access and adequate devices at home. 

It’s a proposal that has the backing of over 40 leading voices in education, including four former Education Secretaries, four former Children’s Ministers, a former Head of Ofsted, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, cross-party MPs, leading children’s charities, education unions, academics, and even a former Prime Minister! 

This is no silver bullet. It will not permanently close the digital divide or make up for months away from school. But it will make an immediate, tangible difference to some of the most vulnerable children in our society, removing the barrier that prevents 700,000 of them from completing their schoolwork at home. 

It took the intervention of a Premier League footballer for Ministers to agree that no child should go to bed hungry.

What will it take before we all agree that no child’s education should be dependent on their internet connection? 

 

Siobhain McDonagh is Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden.

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