London Councils and Mayor work to help close digital divide

 

  • London Grid for Learning providing 200,000 low-cost laptops for schools
  • Leaders encourage Londoners, businesses and public sector to donate old devices
  • London Councils and the Mayor of London have launched a new taskforce to tackle digital exclusion in the city and source new and upcycled electronic devices for adults and children in need.

The closure of schools during the latest lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19 means teaching has shifted online. While many children can continue learning remotely, many are unable to access learning resources as they lack a suitable device or a reliable internet connection.

Many vulnerable adults have also been left without access to an electronic device or internet connection to use for education, training, work or keeping in touch with friends and relatives during lockdown.

Sadiq has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, calling on him to urgently address this issue. The Government recently announced a scheme to supply digital devices – but many more devices are needed to meet demand among pupils of all school years across London.

The Mayor and council leaders are also encouraging Londoners, businesses and the public sector to donate old devices to a number of London-based and national charities so they can be upcycled for those most in need – and have jointly published a list so Londoners can find out how and where to donate their devices.

One of the objectives of the new taskforce – led by London’s Chief Digital Officer – is to comprehensively map out the need for devices and reliable connectivity across London. It will also play a key role in helping allocate significant investment in digital infrastructure – to help connect areas of London currently struggling with poor connectivity – and helping Londoners gain important digital skills.

This supports the work of the London Recovery Programme, whose nine missions include ensuring every Londoner has access to good connectivity, basic digital skills and the device or support they need to be online by 2025.

As part of this, the Mayor has allocated £1.5 million over the next two years in his recently-published draft budget to work with the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) to understand fully the levels of digital exclusion across London and help Londoners access the devices and skills they need to get online.

Research by the Sutton Trust and Teacher Tapp shows only 10 per cent of schools across the country reported all their pupils having a laptop – only a marginal increase from last March (seven per cent) (1). Meanwhile, Ofcom estimates between 1.14 million and 1.78 million UK children (nine per cent) lack access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home – and more than 880,000 live in a household with only a mobile internet connection (2).

The Mayor and London’s local leaders have been working with London Grid for Learning (LGfL), a charitable organisation which works on behalf of the capital’s local authorities to provide schools with devices for their pupils.

The charity provided 100,000 devices for schools around the country during the first lockdown and has recently ordered 100,000 more. However, fully meeting the demand remains a huge challenge, not least some equipment takes several weeks to arrive from the supplier.

Councils in London are currently assessing the need in their areas, with some reporting as many as 8,000 pupils still lack devices, even taking into account those which have already been ordered.

LGfL is also working to secure a wireless connectivity deal with a major mobile network and is working with schools to reconditioning older devices.

Cllr Georgia Gould, Chair of London Councils said: 

“The opportunities of London – to live, to learn, to earn and to raise a family – should be accessible to everyone. This pandemic has shown that being able to access the internet – whether for work or for school or studying – is a basic necessity that sadly divides our city.

“Across London thousands of people are being unfairly excluded from education and employment because they do not have the skills, infrastructure or devices they need to get online. London boroughs are part of this vital pan-London mission to close the digital divide and enable all Londoners to access digital skills and opportunities.

“It’s particularly worrying that children are at risk of falling behind at school during the pandemic because they do not have the right equipment at home. A London Councils survey showed that more than 79,000 devices are still needed to enable all of London’s children to access remote learning.

“That is why I am proud that working with the Mayor and boroughs around London we have made digital access one of the core missions for London’s recovery. Creating a better future for our city means ensuring that everyone has the benefit of digital connectivity and I am excited to work with boroughs, businesses and citizens to ensure all Londoners are connected.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: 

“Every school child in London should have the equipment they need to continue learning online during lockdown.

“But it’s the sad reality that there are still many who will struggle with this because they or their families don’t have the equipment they need, and so face having their schooling disrupted.

“Thousands of Londoners have already helped by donating their old devices and I’m sure many more will help over the coming weeks – you can find charity partners through the list on City Hall’s website

“The pandemic and the restrictions to limit the spread of the virus will continue to have a profound impact on all our lives. But I’m determined to work with organisations across the capital to do everything possible to ensure children are able to gain a good education despite of the challenges we all face.”

Last month, the Mayor donated hundreds of computers formerly used by Greater London Authority staff to charities working with London’s elderly, homeless and refugees, in partnership with social enterprise SocialBox.Biz.

Sadiq recently allocated £40,000 to a project run by Brent Council to help those impacted financially or personally by Covid-19 to get an interest-free loan, grant or both, which can be used to buy a laptop and pay for data to get online.

Further investment in tackling digital exclusion across the capital will be announced in the coming weeks.

CEO of London Grid for Learning (LGfL), John Jackson, said: 

“The impact of Covid-19 on children, families and loved ones has increased inequality and highlighted a digital divide. There is an urgent need to provide affordable devices and safe connectivity for disadvantaged children and all learners.

“LGfL is delighted to support the Mayor’s taskforce, a critical development which will join up incredibly important work on digital inclusion across public, private and charitable sectors at a time of national emergency."

Social Impact Consultant at SocialBox.Biz, Carolyn Williams, said: 

"We take for granted that we can go online to catch up with friends and loved ones, or do our shopping from the safety of our homes. This luxury is not afforded to the most vulnerable in society, such as the elderly, those without a home and refugees.

"Sadly, companies are sitting on piles of unused laptops and tablets. Worse still, most of these are just sold for scrap and shipped around the world, adding to our carbon footprint. We need every organisation to start looking at their procurement policy to help tackle digital isolation. We need their old technology as soon as possible to support those in need." 

Director of environmental charity Hubbub, Gavin Ellis, said: 

“We have seen first-hand the transformative effect a device can have on people’s lives. Londoners have really stepped up to pass on their unwanted smartphones to those who need them via our Community Calling campaign in partnership with O2, and it is wonderful to see the positive difference this is making.

“There is still a big gap to fill, and at the same time so many old devices are sitting around unused in people’s homes and businesses. The establishment of this taskforce is a welcome step to accelerate the provision of better connectivity, skills and devices to those in need.”

General Counsel and External Affairs Director of Vodafone UK, Helen Lamprell, said: 

“The pandemic has impacted everyone in London, but we know children from low income families have been hardest hit. It is simply not right that any child should be held back because of a lack of access to devices and connectivity.

“This is why our focus throughout the pandemic has been on keeping the UK connected. With our schools.connected programme and the relaunch of the Great British Tech Appeal, we’re getting connectivity, smartphones and tablets to children and families that need them most. There is much more to be done and we look forward to working with the Mayor to end the digital divide in London.” 

ENDS

Notes to editors:

(1) https://www.suttontrust.com/our-research/remote-learning-the-digital-divide/

(2) https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0030/198138/tech-tracker-internet-and-device-access-children-data-tables.pdf%C2%A0

For more information about how and where to donate devices, see: https://www.london.gov.uk/coronavirus/education-and-childcare/device-and-connectivity-support

For information on organisations providing devices and support, see: organisations providing device and data support: https://www.london.gov.uk/coronavirus/education-and-childcare/device-and-connectivity-support

The Digital Exclusion Taskforce – chaired by the Chief Digital Office, Theo Blackwell – includes: the London boroughs of Ealing, Croydon, Newham, Southwark and Brent, Nominet Trust; Age UK; HEAR; BT; and Vodafone.

The London Recovery Programme, overseen by the London Recovery Board, is working to restore confidence in the city, minimise the impact on communities and build back better the city’s economy and society post-Covid: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/recovery_programme_overview.pdf

For more information on the London Office of Technology and Innovation, see: https://loti.london

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