The new term means a return to online learning for teachers and students, but the ‘digital divide’ means there’s a huge variation in children’s ability to access learning.
Here at CAS we’d like to build a clearer picture of the challenges, and successes, that schools and children are facing. We’ve already spoken to our CAS members teaching at primary schools across the country.
They’ve told us about issues such as patchy broadband, reliance on 4G, children lacking equipment and more. This week the Department for Education announced that some digital devices and dongles will be made available to select groups, but it’s clear that more will need to be done to tackle digital inequality.
We’d love to hear about your experiences working to support families and children to keep engaged with education during the closure of schools.
Here’s what some of our community had to say:
Martyn Soulsby at North Lakes School, Penrith, a Junior School which is also part of a hub of nine schools across the Eden Valley in Cumbria:
- “Of the 220 children at our school, we’ve found that there are only three children who lack Wi-Fi or broadband, but the real issue is lack of devices, other than mobile phones, and patchy broadband service. A major problem in Cumbria is the lack of consistent broadband.
- “Many people cannot afford high speed broadband; some families are accessing online learning using 4G - but this will cost them in the long term. What would really help is if mobile phone companies could offer ‘unlimited data’ packages to some children and families.
- “We’re also aware that there is far more pressure on devices by families. Devices are being used by parents working from home, or children may have older tech – so new apps don’t work.”
David Fairlamb, Head of Computing and Deputy Safeguarding Lead at Valley Garden Middle School, in Whitley Bay, Tyneside:
- “We held an audit before school closed to identify pupils with difficulty getting online and we tried to provide them with some tech equipment.
- “We were fortunate because we were already familiar with using Google Classrooms.
- “I have seen that for colleagues in other schools which were not so familiar with tech platforms, this was a real challenge, getting pupils up to speed quickly.
- “Some children have the right tech - but not the right software. E.g. Safari not Chrome, so platforms don’t load effectively.
- “Many are using a smartphone, but text-based work really needs a keyboard, not a tablet.”
Colin Grimes, teaches at Rothbury First School in Northumberland where he is also Computing Lead:
- “As a primary school in rural Northumberland, many of our families don’t have access to high speed broadband. Many families use 4G connection for internet, so we try to avoid using data intensive things like video.
- “Most families don’t have a PC. Children are using iPads, tablets or smartphones.Because of those constraints we have been delivering paper packs to our 90 pupils.
- “This is not the time to be delivering new content. It’s all about consolidation of learning. We’re also finding that there’s a huge range of engagement.
- “We can provide a week’s worth of work online, but a child may have finished it by Monday afternoon, while another has not logged on by midweek. It’s clear there’s a massive gap between ‘haves and have nots’.”
Adrienne Tough, is a computer science teacher at a London secondary school:
- “We see many children who don’t have access to devices to be able to access the curriculum. Others are reliant on 4G data plans. We as a school have been working hard to address this with our partners where we can, but I’ve no doubt this is an issue for many schools and will need a broad approach, particularly if we are to avoid a long lasting impact on children’s education.”
Dawn Walker teaches at King Charles Primary School, in Walsall, part of the Bentley Federation and is a Computing at School (CAS) Community Leader.
- “Many of our most disadvantaged children live in homes without access to broadband. Parents may have 4G data plans and when that runs out the children often don't have access until their monthly plan is renewed or until they have the money to purchase a top up.
- “In a survey of last summer, a quarter of our children said they only had access to the internet a couple of times a week or less.
- “Our most vulnerable children tell us they don't have devices suitable for working on presentations/docs/design type projects. Many children also only access the Internet through games consoles or tablets which they have to share with siblings. Many have 'hand me down' phones with screens too small for doing anything other than accessing existing resources (online books) or maths type challenges.
- “Many children also only internet access through games consoles or tablets which they have to share with siblings. In our survey only 10% of the children accessed the internet through a PC or laptop. Not enough schools are surveying parents or children and we therefore don't know the true picture.”
CAS Digital Divide Survey. Is lack of access to technology affecting your student's ability to learn? Tell us your experience and take part in our survey here.