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Crowdfund launched to bridge digital divide for Southwark pupils

21 January 2021

Southwark Council is match-funding a new fundraising campaign aimed at supporting thousands of Southwark pupils currently without access to a laptop or internet connection as they learn remotely from home during lockdown.

The digital divide means many disadvantaged children and young people are missing vital teaching time, putting them at risk of falling behind.

With support from Southwark Council, the London South Teaching School Alliance is determined to get laptops to pupils who need them.

Money raised through the ‘Laptop for Learning’ crowdfund will equip children and young people with the digital tools they need not just for during lockdown, but for their long term schooling.

Local education charity the Newcomen Collett Foundation kicked the crowdfund off with a donation of £20,000, which has provided schools with 130 laptops already.

Businesses who have laptops they no longer use or who can offer services to refurbish second-hand laptops are also being asked for their support.

However, Southwark Council is not stopping there as many of these same families do not have access to reliable WiFi.

The council has secured an agreement with internet providers Hyperoptic and Community Fibre to offer free broadband to all homes on their estates until the end of the school year.

Families currently without a broadband connection should contact their children’s school, who are working to identify eligible households.

Cllr Jasmine Ali, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, said: “Our schools have gone above and beyond to try and get their pupils online during lockdown through fundraising, lending out their limited number of devices, and working with the council to access government support. But this just hasn’t been enough to bridge the deep digital divide in Southwark.

“There is a greater reliance on technical equipment than ever before to facilitate remote learning. Government told schools to increase their use of tech. Then they promised us more equipment. But we cannot rely on this, because the last time the Department of Education promised laptops, we didn’t get enough. The cruel fact is that some of our most disadvantaged children suffered further damage to their education as a result.”

“We refuse to accept that some of our most disadvantaged children and young people will be deprived of the education they deserve because they don’t have access to the technology they need for online learning. That’s why we’re supporting the Teaching School Alliance and match-funding their Laptops for Learning campaign, to ensure that no families are left behind.

“We’ve seen just how brilliantly our communities have pulled together since the pandemic began and encourage residents who are able to donate what they can to help combat the digital exclusion of school children in our borough. I’d urge any businesses who think they could offer support with second-hand laptops to get in touch too.”

Cllr Alice Macdonald, Cabinet Member for Communities and Equalities, said: “Families in Southwark shouldn’t have to rely on internet tethering from a mobile phone to ensure their children can access online learning. This lack of connectivity is an unacceptable barrier to education faced by thousands of Southwark’s pupils. We’re building on our partnership with internet providers to extend the free and fast WiFi connections provided at community halls to all homes in our estates currently without broadband until the end of the school year. This is just the beginning as we want to work with providers to get the internet to every single child who needs it”

Cassie Buchanan, Lead Headteacher from London South Teaching School Alliance, said: “With schools likely to remain closed well into the spring term and beyond, the learning gap between disadvantaged children and others is set to get wider. We have come together as an alliance of schools to call on residents and the business community to help us to ensure that every child is able to learn online at home. Southwark Council has generously offered to match-fund all donations, and this provides a powerful opportunity for us to make a real difference for more children.”

For more information or to donate money to Laptops for Learning, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/laptopsforlearning

Page last updated: 21 January 2021

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