College combats digital poverty with laptop lend

Middlesbrough College is seeking to overcome digital poverty by lending a device to each of the 4,500 students starting a full-time course this autumn

A north-east college is set to help ameliorate digital poverty by lending a laptop to all of its new full-time students.

Come September, each of the 4,500 students starting a full-time course at Middlesbrough College will be lent a Microsoft Surface device for use both at home and on campus.

Once their studies at the college have been completed, they will then be given the option to purchase the laptop for a nominal fee.

Numerous pieces of research have indicated just how deep the digital divide has become in the wake of coronavirus. The Social Mobility Commission’s state of the nation report 2021 found that, when the lockdown hit in March 2020, only 51% of UK households earning between £6000 to £10,000 had home internet access, compared with 99% of those with an income of more than £40,000.

And in December 2021, a poll from education charity Teach First revealed that only 2% of teachers working within disadvantaged communities said their pupils had adequate access to the technology they need to work from home.

Read more: The Digital Poverty Alliance begins the second phase of its Tech4Teachers project, providing laptops to educational staff lacking adequate hardware

“Like most schools and colleges, the Covid-19 pandemic forced our students to learn remotely. However, some simply didn’t have the technology to do that,” said Zoe Lewis, principal and chief executive of Middlesbrough College.

“While we distributed 700 laptops to students’ homes to ensure they could keep learning, we knew that wasn’t a long-term solution. We have to level the playing field to ensure every young person has an equal opportunity at our college.”

As well as partnering with the Microsoft Education programme, the Teesside institution is seeking to combat digital poverty by working with local broadband providers to ensure that any students lacking wifi at home are provided with a free connection.

“We need a solid digital foundation, which includes having staff with the right skills, hardware that’s easy to use and secure, and systems that talk to each other via the cloud,” added Lewis. “By having those three things in place, we will achieve our goals.”

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