Why laptop poverty is cruelly denying our kids a chance in life 1 year ago

Why laptop poverty is cruelly denying our kids a chance in life

Laptop poverty must end - even if we have to do it ourselves.

One of the greatest lies of the global pandemic - apart from perhaps early rumours that alcohol consumption killed all traces of Covid-19 - is that coronavirus is some sort of great leveller. Time and again it is implied that the virus does not discriminate beyond health factors such as old age and pre-existing conditions, and that we are all therefore affected in the same way. Although the first bit is true, the suggestion everyone is impacted equally is as ridiculous as claiming we were all equal to begin with.

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As with any social or economic phenomenon, those with less money and means suffer exponentially. They are more susceptible to infection due to the jobs they do, have less access to safe outdoor space due to where they live, have severely limited options in terms of working from home and childcare, and are far more likely to live in overcrowded accommodation. If social mobility is hard enough at the best of times, it becomes a near impossibility during times of economic contraction and societal trauma.

The greatest chance anyone from a disadvantaged background has to escape the poverty trap is through education. The dream of a better future for their children is what drives struggling parents to sacrifice what little they have to benefit the next generation. But during the ongoing pandemic, the crippling phenomenon of laptop poverty is risking even that small sliver of hope. With schools closed and remote learning the new normal, children from low-income households are bereft of the basic facilities to learn.

The lack of a laptop - or similar online learning device - denies a child direct access to teachers, online classes, online portals to distribute work, access to group discussions with fellow classmates, the ability to research for homework, revise for exams, or even complete and submit assignments. It's not just that it puts them at a disadvantage compared to peers - it literally stops them from learning and growing as individuals.

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The stats around laptop poverty are alarming to say the least. According to data from End Laptop Poverty, kids with laptops are 234% more likely to get 5*A-C GCSEs than those without. This has a huge impact on future prospects, university places, further qualifications, and of course job prospects. Without the competitive GCSEs that laptops demonstrably allow, the difference in lifetime earnings is a whopping £100,000. A gap in learning becomes a chasm in livelihood, as a whole generation is condemned to living in poverty.

The government simply aren't doing enough to address such a chronic problem. For all the public spin about providing around 900,000 machines since last year, such a figure doesn't scratch the surface. It is a source of national embarrassment that we lag behind the likes of Estonia and Finland in digital learning provision. A Sutton Trust study found that 47% of state schools are only able to supply half of their pupils with laptops, with the vast majority of education leaders having to source equipment themselves.

As much as it is an indictment of the state that concerned members of the public are having to pick up the slack for poor planning and inertia, such mobilisation and direct action is heartening and absolutely vital. End Laptop Poverty, a collaboration between Revolt London and Department for Opportunities, are doing their level best to address the situation. Working closely with a range of local charities and projects across the UK, their plan to bridge the digital divide is surprisingly simple yet potentially seismic.

Whilst laptop poverty continues to affect many hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children - especially during lockdown - End Laptop Poverty estimate there are 14 million spare laptops gathering dust in UK homes. Just a fraction of those devices would allow every child in the country to have the tools they need to learn - and completely eradicate laptop poverty in a matter of months. That is why End Laptop Poverty are urging both businesses and members of the public to donate their unused machines.

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Partner organisations collaborating with End Laptop Poverty will accept donated laptops in good working order (ideally with chargers), and securely wipe them, repair any cosmetic damage, and allocate them to a school or young person in need. It's that simple. In a perfect world, it would be the state that would provide such basic and necessary provision for learning. Ideally, an initiative like End Laptop Poverty wouldn't exist. But then, we live in a world where a footballer does more to feed kids than Number 10.

In any case, a disadvantaged child in receipt of a laptop allowing them to fully participate in their school education and properly join in with their classmates won't care where it came from. All that will matter to both them and their family is that they will no longer be excluded from that most basic human right - to learn and to strive for a better future.

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You can learn more about End Laptop Poverty and how you can donate a spare laptop here.