With most children learning online at home due to lockdown, the digital divide between the haves and have nots is widening.
Although Hammersmith & Fulham Council and local schools continue to distribute laptops, we estimate more than 1,500 children are still at risk of missing out thanks to lack of supply from the government.
Across the country, Ofcom believes up to 1.8 million children have no access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home.
To address the problem, west London charity Ready Tech Go was set up last year by a group of BAME volunteers who work in IT, to bridge the technology gap between those with computers and those without.
The charity is appealing for money and laptops to tackle the issue of digital poverty with support from both H&F Council and local charity UNITED in Hammersmith & Fulham, which have already given it a grant to support its work.
Cllr Larry Culhane, H&F Cabinet Member for Children and Education, praised the work of the charity, and urged anyone with a laptop or tablet that they no longer need to consider donating it.
“Ready Tech Go have been an incredible friend of young people in H&F. They have been doing a vital job in closing the digital divide and helping ensure all our children can keep up with their learning during this tragic pandemic."
Access to technology
The charity’s mantra is ‘access to technology should be a right, not a privilege’, and its volunteers recondition laptops and tablets, wiping any data that remains on them before giving them free to families in need.
Co-founder Kanwar Singh explained: “We realised, during the first lockdown in 2020, how big the problem was when we found that a lot of children were trying to do their homework on mobile phones.
“It was a surprise to me. Maybe I’m a bit naïve, but my background is in disaster relief. I’ve worked in a lot of poorer countries where it’s a problem, but I didn’t expect it in the UK.”
The issue is that there are large sections of society, including families with limited resources, long-term unemployed and some elderly people, who have no access to digital devices, or very limited data allowances.
Yet while many struggle to afford to buy laptops and tablets, cupboards across H&F fill up with unloved devices that will never be used again.
Kanwar, whose wife works at a pharmacy in Fulham Palace Road, said that the government’s roll-out programme of providing free laptops is simply too slow.
“We’re trying to fill the gap,” he said. “We’ve now supplied more than 100 devices, but we rely on donations. Of every 20 laptops, 10 might be good enough to pass on straight away, five might need new parts and five will need further costs to make them worthy of using... perhaps getting a new processor.”
He said that there was a lot of ‘e-waste’ around – discarded serviceable equipment – particularly when computer manufacturers bring out new devices which perform better than older models.
“We have a network of volunteers, including IT managers, who wipe any stray files and data before we give the equipment to those who need it,” he said. “We do a complete clean of data.”
Typical of those benefiting from Ready Tech Go’s help is single mum Rozena, who lives in White City. She didn’t have access to a laptop until the charity provided one, and it’s proved a godsend for 12-year-old son Max’s schoolwork.
“It’s been really, really helpful for him, and for his seven-year-old sister as they’re having to do all their learning at home all day,” she said. “They share it.”
Better still, when she’s put them both to bed, she can make use of the laptop. “I’m doing online studying myself, and so it was difficult before. I’m very pleased – it’s made a big difference.”
She was referred to Ready Tech Go by the White City Foodbank, at the community centre, and the reconditioned laptop was delivered to her door.
If you can assist the charity with a donation of money or any unwanted laptops or tablets, visit the Ready Tech Go website.
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