A new poll from education charity Teach First has revealed that only 2% of teachers working within disadvantaged communities say their pupils have adequate access to the technology they need to work from home, such as devices and internet.
This is five times less than most affluent schools (10%) and three times less than the national average (6%).
Seventy-five percent of teachers working in the wealthiest schools say they have enough devices for at least three quarters of their pupils, compared to just 25% of teachers in the most disadvantaged schools.
The digital divide
The pandemic saw a surge of attention drawn to the digital divide, with remote schooling and Zoom classes the norm for extended periods.
Throughout the national lockdowns, the UK government successfully distributed more than 1,300,000 devices to schools across the country.
“Like many schools, we’ve become a lot more reliant on digital learning since the school closures – especially for lessons, submitting homework and extra tuition,” commented Tony Costello, headteacher at Savio Salvesian College in Merseyside.
Yet teachers have spoken about the digital divide reaching beyond the parameters of Covid-19. While the pandemic served as a catalyst, technology is becoming increasingly essential to modern classrooms – 65% of teachers say they are using technology more than they were two years ago, increasing to 73% in secondary schools.
The pandemic has drawn attention to a number of inequalities in our education system and it is clear that the digital divide is a serious issue. But it goes far beyond the current pandemic – Russel Hobby, CEO of Teach First
Twenty-eight percent of teachers also agree that since the start of the academic year, the attainment gap has increased between students who had access to a digital device throughout lockdown compared to those who didn’t.
Sixty-three percent therefore agreed that better access to devices would help to close the gap.
Additional financial support is what’s needed in order to tackle the access issue – 64% of teachers reported insufficient funding in their existing budget to ensure all students have adequate digital access.
“If young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have access to devices and the internet – as well as a good space to study – then the attainment gap will widen,” said Russel Hobby, CEO of Teach First.
Access was not the only problem teachers were keen to solve. Upskilling pupils to better equip them to use digital tools effectively was highlighted as vitally important.
Only a third of teachers believed their students had sufficient skills to use devices safely and effectively when learning from home.
Time to invest
Teach First are calling for the Department of Education to invest more in the provision of laptops, tablets and internet routers for students from impoverished backgrounds. They are also asking for a significant funding boost to schools serving disadvantaged communities, so that all children are given an equal chance to a brighter future.
“Government, businesses and charities played an important role in supporting schools to ensure pupils forced to work from home during the pandemic were able to do so. But now we have to look at the long-term future of education – and that means prioritising investment towards schools serving disadvantaged communities, where the digital divide remains stark,” said Hobby.
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