The sudden u-turn by this government to not send kids back to school in January may have come as a relief to many, but it has also exposed the digital poverty at the heart of our local communities.
A survey for the Daily Mail shows that one third of families are struggling with home schooling because they simply do not have enough computers for their children. Four in ten parents surveyed said that they can’t afford the new kit needed to run modern online teaching platforms.
In Kent, Kent County Council has distributed 2,950 laptops and wifi dongles over the past ten months, an average of only 3.1 pieces of kit per school.
With this in mind, Gorrell Councillor Chris Cornell and his wife Charlotte set up Top Up To Teach to collect up, recondition and distribute old laptops people had lying around to those who needed them most.
In little over a month they have recruited a small team of twelve volunteers, raised in excess of £2,500 to have the laptops reconditioned and provided over 170 internet ready devices to individuals or schools in the area.
“I know first hand how hard it is to teach more than one child at home during lockdown” said Charlotte. “With lots of my friends only having on device and two or three children, it became clear that one child was always missing out. That didn’t seem fair and we knew we needed to do something”.
“Some of the cases are desperately sad” said Councillor Cornell, himself a governor at large state primary school in Swalecliffe. “We’ve had families of six learning trying to learn on one broken smart phone, children with no recourse to public funds who are simply too scared to ask for help and deaf students who can’t understand their teachers signing because the screen their screen is too small. These laptops are often the only way a child can stay stay engaged with their friends and the outside world at a time children’s mental health is hugely under strain”.
“The community response has been amazing” said Charlotte “but in 21st Century Britain our children should be provided for”.
Rather surprisingly, demand has however been largest from state primary schools who are on average between 15-20 laptops short and report that planned government support hasn’t materialised. Staff have also reported that they have a growing number of children meeting the criteria through patently unemployment who they just can’t put forward for help because the government support scheme has now closed.
In Canterbury District the charity has provided over 20 PC’s each to family support workers at Joy Lane in Seasalter, Blean and St Johns Primary School in Northgate. This work has only been possible through the technical support often provided for free or at cost by Poorly PC’s in Chestfield, SOS Technical in Faversham, GP PC‘s in Tankerton and the Blagden Apple Consultancy in Seasalter.
If you have any spare equipment or free cash you think you can donate please contact Top Up to Teach at www.topuptoteach.org