Can you feel it? I can. Life is very slowly drifting back to normal. That is amazing news on so many fronts and I suspect the vast majority of us would welcome a bit more ‘normal’ in our lives. However, the one area I don’t want to go back to being normal, is the shameful disparity of the use of technology to support learning in the UK.
The pandemic has brought into focus for many people the realisation that our schools and families across the UK lack the basic tools, equipment and access to participate in the world most of us take for granted. An amazing 25% of vulnerable children do not have access to a suitable device for learning, 50% of 12-15 year-olds have had a negative experience online and 70% of households earning less than £17.5K only have foundation digital skills.
The recent crisis exposed the huge inequity and impact that these figures represent. The stark reality is that without the tools to engage in learning in a world that has never been less predictable, a school aged child faces the real probability of having their life chances restrained. In the recent GCSE exams results, children in the north east performed the worst, this also happens to be the area of the country with the highest gap of family home access to the internet. No wonder that in a school year hugely disrupted by the pandemic that those without sufficient access to technology found their performance in exams had suffered.
Learning has now largely moved back into the classroom, that is fantastic in so many ways. Interacting with peers, being able to engage in face to face lessons and just being a part of something bigger than you all bring huge benefits. But what about the amazing lessons learnt and investments made over the past eighteen months? I’ve heard stories of children going back to school and being given printouts of their work to follow, being told to put their devices away and not being encouraged to use the available technology to solve problems.
We must do better. We have learnt so much in the past eighteen months, made huge investments and sacrifices. To not build on that and just go back to how things used to be because it is easy feels like a huge dis-service to our kids and the wider community. The Digital Poverty Alliance, with and through our partners, will be working tirelessly to make sure the best of what has been achieved since the start of the pandemic continues and that we don’t stop until every learner has exactly what they need for their education, regardless of where they are, their circumstances or family income.