Written evidence submitted by Siobhain McDonagh, Member of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden
Technology has been vital during the lockdown. Thanks to the internet, many children have been able to keep in contact with friends and family, to take part in online exercise classes, and, in some cases, to continue learning despite the closure of schools. But this opportunity has not been available for all, with my local schools and NHS health visitors informing me of a huge number of families who do not have internet access at home. If these children can’t access the same resources as their classmates, they will find themselves even further behind when they return to school. Some will never catch up.
I was contacted by local NHS health visitors about a homeless hostel in Mitcham, where 86 families live, without outside space and no internet connection. The health visitors feared for the welfare of the children during the lockdown at home all day every day. This led me to contact a number of technology and mobile phone companies to ask for help in providing devices and internet connection. We had support from:
This campaign also inspired the Dons Local Action Group (a wonderful voluntary group of AFC Wimbledon supporters) to launch their Keep Kids Connected campaign which, to date, has led to the distribution of 300 refurbished laptops through the local schools. Their campaign can be viewed in full here.
The families who received the devices have been delighted with the health visitors sending the following in thanks:
Whilst it has been truly gratifying to be part of this scheme, and together with AFC Wimbledon we have given internet access to hundreds of children, this is only scraping the surface. The lockdown has revealed the size and depth of the internet divide between the richest and poorest.
The digital divide was also highlighted in a recent piece by Edward Timpson MP in the Red Box: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/as-we-embrace-online-learning-we-must-ensure-no-child-is-left-behind-k8mh5x36m
Furthermore, recent polling by the Sutton Trust showed that:
Now we are aware of the size of the internet divide and the education and implication on the future work opportunities that it will have for the most vulnerable, I believe that we have an obligation to ensure that these children have access to the internet at home. That’s why I will be promoting a Presentation Bill to require the Secretary of State for Education to provide internet access to the homes of children entitled to free school meals, currently 1.3 million children.
I would be very grateful if the Education Select Committee might be prepared to be part of this campaign.
Siobhain McDonagh MP
Sample letter sent to technology companies
RE: Could you make the lockdown just a bit more bearable for the children without internet access in my community?
I am writing to ask for your help in providing internet access to the children of families in my local community in South London who are struggling to learn, play and exercise during the coronavirus lockdown.
Thanks to the internet, children across our country are able to continue learning despite the closure of schools. It has given families the lifeline of remaining in contact with relatives, providing them with entertainment to stay indoors throughout the lockdown, and even offering digital exercise sessions for those who cannot go outside. But these diversions are not available to all, with my local schools informing me of families who do not have internet access at home.
That’s why I’m writing to you for help. I’m looking for any technology that could help these children get access to education, to fun, and to just be like the other kids in their school class, whether that is through:
• Pre-loaded SIM cards
• Data-enabled tablets
• Any other technology you would recommend.
We are simply looking for ways that these children will be able to access the internet – whether this is older stock or items that are at the end of a line we would be delighted to have them.
In recent weeks, the #GetKidsConnected campaign has secured 140 mobile phones and over 100 tablets, ensuring that hundreds of local families can now access the internet during the lockdown. This has been a lifeline. But there are others who have not received this support. If these children can’t access the same resources as their classmates, they will find themselves even further behind when they return to school. Some will never catch up without our help.
We’re all in this together. The coronavirus crisis has given us all an understanding of how interdependent we are and how we need to help one another. If you can help I would be very grateful if you could contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My sincere thanks for any help you can give.
Siobhain McDonagh MP
Member of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden
P.S. Any available technology you could provide would offer a lifeline for the children in my community. Please can you help?