During the pandemic, the increased reliance on digital learning further exacerbated the impact of the digital divide on young people who live in poverty. This is in the context of more than one in four (260,0000) children being in poverty today with current forecasting that the figure is set to rise further to 29% by 2023-24.
To coincide with October’s Challenge Poverty week, the EIS launched a new briefing for EIS members on Digital Poverty.
For some time, we have been raising concerns about the unequal access among school pupils to devices and internet connectivity, and in terms of digital literacy skills, to enable full participation in digital-based learning.
The 2015 Face Up to Child Poverty publication highlighted the difficulties that young people from the poorest backgrounds face in engaging with homework activities that require internet research, either because they have no access to a computer or smart device, or because access to the internet is limited or non-existent, at home.
During the pandemic, levels of poverty have increased and the greater reliance on digital learning has further widened the digital divide for young people whose families are on low income, so much so that the Scottish Government has begun a programme of issuing a tablet or a laptop to all school-aged children and young people in Scotland.
But in addition to lack of access to digital services at home, many young people living in poverty also experience fuel poverty, meaning that their homes have insufficient power to charge or power devices. Many don’t have a place where they can sit down and concentrate at home on schoolwork because of overcrowding and lack of space, or the absence of furniture such as a table, desk or chair. In these circumstances, even with access to a tablet or a laptop, young people continue to be digitally excluded.
In setting up any learning activities that require the use of the internet either in class or at home, due sensitivity to income- related inequalities should be given to avoid any young person missing out on learning activities and experiencing stigma as a result of their/ their family’s digital exclusion.
This briefing is the first in a series that will culminate in the publication later this session, of refreshed advice on how EIS members might seek to mitigate the impact of poverty in the classroom and the wider school.