Bridging the digital divide

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Bridging the digital divide

“How is a child supposed to learn and engage with their education when they don’t have the resources?” – Bev Wong, Family Support Worker, CHIPS

Over the past few months, one of the inequalities that’s been screaming at us loudest is the digital divide that exists in our community.

Who is affected by digital exclusion?

Digital exclusion isn’t new, but the Coronavirus crisis has thrown it into sharp relief. In the UK, an estimated 1.9 million households have no access to the internet during lockdown, while many millions more are reliant on pay-as-you-go services to make calls or access online education while schools are closed.

It is the poorest and most vulnerable who are affected by the digital divide and we see its effects in our work every day. As a result of not having computer equipment or broadband at home, we know many young people who have been unable to do any online learning at all, while others are trying to use their mobile phones without WiFi. At CHIPS, we believe that both are unacceptable.

Our colleagues at Lambeth Citizens say that they have already identified close to 100 young people in desperate need across just one school, Saint Gabriel’s College, and one Brixton estate, Angell Town where CHIPS is based.

Thankfully, the government is now responding with a range of initiatives to try to tackle the issue. However, with a limit to funding, not everyone will benefit. And many families we know are not eligible for support anyway because of their immigration status, family circumstances or other reasons.

Falling through the cracks, with no devices or WiFi to continue their education and development, young people are in isolation and deprived of online support and lessons. Schools are doing their best with paper packs, but young people need to be able to connect and participate if they are to fulfil their potential.” – Lambeth Citizens

Emergency response

Since the crisis started, CHIPS has been providing laptops and modems for some of those we work with in the greatest need and, thanks to support from The Walcot Foundation and the public, we have now secured laptops and WiFi modems for more than 20 local families.

We delivered our first laptops and 4G WiFi modem packages in Brixton just over a month ago. In one case, the eldest child, a year 10 student, had been unable to do any online learning and was in danger of falling behind without it. The Vice Principal of the school said:

“Teachers report that the pupil was actively and excitedly online today. This is the best thing that’s happened during lockdown!”

Another household we’ve helped with a laptop explained that because they are on universal credit, they simply couldn’t imagine funding it themselves.   

Can you help?

As Lambeth Citizens’ numbers show, there are still many more young people in urgent need. That’s why we’re partnering with them on their campaign to get more young people the equipment they need to continue their learning.

If, like us, you think this situation is unacceptable and would like to do something to help in Lambeth:

  • If you have spare or unwanted good-quality laptops, you can to contact us at office@chipspeace.org or call 020 7078 7439. and we’ll ensure they are cleaned, restored, and put into the hands of the children who need them.
  • Alternatively, if you don’t have equipment to spare but would like to make a financial donation to the Lambeth Citizens campaign, you can give online at justgiving.com/fundraising/lambeth-citizens

Of course, the digital divide is not limited to Lambeth. Many hundreds of thousands of families across the country are in urgent need of equipment and WiFi. If you are based outside London, you could:

  • Contact a school you’re connected to locally and ask if they can put your spare laptop to better use.
  • Contact one of your local councillors to understand the situation in your area and ask how you can help.

“Doing something seemingly small like this now could actually have a significant impact on a child’s learning and development.” – Paul, Co-Director (Programmes), CHIPS

Paul delivering laptops to families, June 2020