Urgent plea for devices and data to solve digital divide that’s stopping Manchester’s children learning online

With children working from home amid school closures, there’s one thing many are short of and that’s technology.

Families with more than one school aged child have found themselves fighting for devices just to be able to do their classwork.

Now Mayor Andy Burnham has made a plea for businesses to support the Greater Manchester Tech Fund, which was set up last year to help vulnerable families.

Speaking at his weekly press conference today, the Mayor said: “A common scenario that is given to us by headteachers is a house with three or four people within it, where there’s one device, and obviously a competition for who can have access to that device, which obviously is far from ideal.”

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His appeal for help last week has attracted some support, with the likes of Auto Trader, The Prince’s Trust, Arup Group, Business in the Community and ANS Group, all getting on board with offers of help.

But, as Burnham explained, much more is needed, as many of the devices promised to schools have still not materialised.

He said: “Even if all of the central support that’s been promised comes to fruition – and there’s a big ‘if’ about that because we’re already hearing that schools and colleges are not receiving promised deliveries… – we still anticipate that up to 20,000 learners will be left in a position where they can’t regularly access online teaching and that is something that is of great concern to us all.”

Is your family struggling with technology and internet connections? Has your school been able to loan you a device? Let us know in the comments here, or share your views on our Manchester Family Facebook page.

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He said he was was ‘really pleased’ by the initial response from businesses and stressed that it’s about much more than the devices themselves – with data and financial contributions just as helpful.

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“It is about devices and laptops – Chromebooks and iPads – but it is as, if not more, about data and connectivity, that is the message that is coming through from our discussions with headteachers and principals,” he said.

“Therefore we are asking some of our bigger players particularly, to see if they can help with connectivity solutions for our young people that can be made available to schools to then be passed on to the households that need them most.”

He said people can supply kit and connectivity solutions, but a donation of £300 would be enough to purchase a complete digital kit and internet access bundle to a young person in the region.

Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that schools in England are ‘much better prepared than last March’ to implement home-learning and said that by the end of this week, the government ‘will have delivered three-quarters-of-a-million devices’.

To find out more about the Greater Manchester Technology Fund and what you can do to help, visit the website here.

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