The mayor of London has launched a digital exclusion task force to reduce the capital’s digital divide. The task force, mayor Sadiq Khan, London councils, and charity London Grid for Learning (LGfL) aims to tackle digital exclusion in London, increasing people’s digital skills and providing disadvantaged people with refurbished devices.
The launch coincides with England’s third coronavirus lockdown, which forced schools to close and young people to learn from home, despite many not having the devices to do so. Khan said: “Every schoolchild in London should have the equipment they need to continue learning online during the 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.”
Khan added: “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 organizations across the capital to do everything possible to ensure children can gain a good education despite the challenges we all face.”
For many young people, learning from home is a challenge, either because of a lack of devices or connectivity. Research from communications regulator Ofcom estimates that between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK do not have access to a laptop or device for homeschooling, and 7% of households can only access the internet through mobile connectivity.
The government is giving laptops to students who need them most, but many have called for more to provide young people with the tech they need for homeschooling. Labour has urged the government to adopt its recommendations for delivering technology for at-home schooling. Khan has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to address the lack of devices for many school kids.
According to London’s councils, which have assessed the need for devices in their local areas, some areas have about 8,000 pupils without the devices they need to learn from home.
As part of the task force, LGfL will provide 100,000 laptops to schools across England on top of the 100,000 provided in the first lockdown. Others in London, including citizens and businesses, are being encouraged to donate old devices to be distributed to those in need.
Old devices from Greater London Authority staff have been donated to charities that work with refugees, the homeless, and elderly Londoners, with help from social enterprise SocialBox.Biz. Also, a £40,000 fund was recently set aside by Khan as part of a project with Brent Council offering interest-free loans or grants to those impacted by Covid-19 to help them buy devices or data.
John Jackson, CEO of LGfL, 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.”
Children are not the only ones facing difficulties as lockdowns increase the need for digital savviness – many people believe the pandemic has highlighted the accurate scale of the UK’s digital divide.
Khan’s task force will also try to draw up a map of areas in London that are most in need of devices and connectivity and help allocate funding for digital infrastructure where it will make the most impact. It has published a list of charities to which Londoners can donate their devices to those in need.
The task force has been implemented to run alongside the already existing London Recovery Programme, which ensures that all Londoners have connectivity, basic digital skills, or devices to help them get online by 2025.
Mayor Khan has set aside £1.5m over the next two years as part of the London Recovery Programme to work with the London Office of Technology and Innovation to assess digital exclusion across the capital properly.