Digital inequality ‘holding millions of school children back’

22nd April 2024
Paige West

Millions of schoolchildren throughout the UK are facing educational setbacks due to digital inequality, exacerbated by the current economic instability, as reported by the Digital Poverty Alliance (DPA).

Research conducted by Deloitte alongside the DPA reveals that 20% of UK children suffer from digital poverty, which encompasses insufficient access to electronic devices, broadband connectivity, or digital skills. To address this issue, the DPA collaborated with Amazon, the Learning Foundation, charity partner In Kind Direct, and Tech First to initiate the Tech4Schools scheme in 2022. This programme aims to equip disadvantaged schools with necessary devices and provide digital skills training.

Elizabeth Anderson, CEO of the Digital Poverty Alliance, commented: “Digital exclusion remains a critical issue across the UK, made worse by the cost-of-living crisis squeezing household budgets and forcing families to make a choice between dinner or devices. This digital inequality is holding millions of school children back as they lack access to a device to complete online lessons or homework, causing their education to suffer.

“We launched the Tech4Schools team with our partners two years ago with the goal of increasing access to devices and skills for schools in disadvantaged communities and ultimately improving the education of children in those areas. Two years on, we’ve seen greater engagement from children with access to these devices as we lay the groundwork for a more prosperous future. The current cohort of school children are the next generation of leaders and innovators in the UK, and we must collectively give them the education and platform they deserve to thrive.”

Under the Tech4Schools scheme, 23 schools located in disadvantaged areas were selected to receive funding for devices and peripherals, enabling students to access technology both at school and home.

The analysis of the data indicated that increased device usage in schools enhanced students' digital self-efficacy and engagement, which in turn improved their participation in school activities.

Teachers highlighted the scheme's potential to reduce financial burdens on parents and recommended its expansion, while parents questioned the criteria for eligibility. Furthermore, both parents and teachers concurred that the scheme successfully provided access that helped learners complete their homework.

However, the government has recently initiated a crackdown on mobile phones in schools, aiming to reduce distractions and enhance behaviour in classrooms.

“For some children their mobile phone is the only device they own, or even their family own, which is where the serious issue lies. Children shouldn’t be relying on smartphones which are completely unsuitable for learning and are more likely to expose them to online safety concerns. Laptops are a learning tool which better protect children from those harms, with safeguarding software that prevents access to dangerous or inappropriate content.

“We need to focus on giving children the correct tools, like laptops, and understanding that smartphones aren’t enough to tackle digital poverty in schools” Anderson said.

The analysis was conducted by researchers at Nottingham Trent University who investigated which learners utilised the device, the factors that influenced utilisation and the effects of device use on school engagement and digital self-efficacy. 

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was used to understand the factors influencing children’s intent to use the devices provided. Indicators within the TAM include intention to use, perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and perceived satisfaction. 

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