Helping reduce digital inequality in Birmingham

Cllr Jayne Francis, cabinet member for education, skills and culture, talks about the need to get laptops and connectivity to all Birmingham children.

The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated some appalling and ongoing inequalities in our society, with our most vulnerable children often suffering the most.

With the current lockdown meaning schools have closed again and parents and carers once more having to home-school, far too many families are struggling because they don’t have laptops or can’t afford the extra data that is needed.

The government promised to send enough devices to schools across the country, a survey of Birmingham schools has found the provision is woefully inadequate. Some of the feedback is heart-breaking; here are children trying to do lessons on mobile phones, siblings sharing devices and families struggling for connectivity. Schools and children in Birmingham deserve better.

While schools are grateful for what has been sent, just one of schools that responded said there was no gap between what was needed and what was received. All but one stated that they need more devices and connectivity, with some secondaries reporting that they are up to 400 short.

If this is happening in Birmingham, it must be happening elsewhere. I know that school staff have been working incredibly hard at short notice to set up remote learning, but these IT issues are having a real impact.

Here at the city council we are doing what we can to help but we simply don’t have the money to fill the gap left by the government. We are working with a range of partners in an effort to reduce digital inequality with involvement from businesses and employers, our local MPs, third sector organisations and the local press. We will, of course, continue to lobby government to ensure that all children and young people who need digital support to continue with their education have access to equipment and resources. As a cabinet member, I will continue to work with officers to ensure that schools have access to up to the minute information on equipment and provision.

So I’m incredibly grateful for all those who have offered support, including the Birmingham Rotary Club. When I spoke to them – via Zoom of course – the other evening about this issue their response was fantastic. Their members raised £2,000 towards the project we are running with Wider Learning to address these problems. I know that our partners at BEP via the established Digital Education project will continue to highlight the need for further resourcing in our city.

Vivienne Wilkes from the Rotary Club said to me: “I am pleased that we could help in some way to assist children in the Birmingham area who need this equipment to continue their studies. This is what Rotary is all about.”

So thank you Rotary Club of Birmingham and all others who have helped. If anyone would like to be further involved in supporting children and young people in Birmingham – either in support of education or any other aspect – please get in touch and again, thank you for your kind and generous support – it is most appreciated.

This blog was posted on Friday 22 January 2021.

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