Seven thousand child-friendly laptops heading to South Yorkshire to tackle digital divide after councils team up with Laptops for Kids

Nearly 7,000 child-friendly laptops will be sent to families in need across South Yorkshire after local councils teamed up with a leading charity to help bridge the county's digital divide.

Laptops for Kids has joined forces with local authorities to source a supply of child-friendly laptops from Dell Technologies so children can access remote learning during the pandemic.

The councils of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield are securing these devices to distribute to schools across their local communities. Schools will share the laptops with households in need.

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The number of children unable to learn online at home during the lockdown has been cited as a major issue during the last year, with the Children’s Commissioner estimating that nine per cent of families are without a laptop, desktop or tablet at home.

Athelstan Primary School assistant headteacher James Mills with Castro Hart-Richards and Vikki Hart with a device donated by Laptops for Kids in Sheffield.

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Though children are due to return to school on Monday, leaders are preparing for more potential disruption in the coming months as well as increasing opportunities to learn outside school and improve children's 'digital literacy'.

Barnsley Council is investing in 1,400 laptops, Doncaster is buying 895 and Sheffield City Council is investing in 3,000 Dell devices and 1,000 refurbished laptops. Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council is investing in 500 laptops, on top of the 1,500 donated by local employer AESSEAL plc.

Funding for the scheme came largely from the councils but they used Laptops for Kids to source the laptops from Dell because of the shortage of such devices and the long lead times when big orders are placed.

Laptops for Kids launched in Sheffield in September 2020 in response to the number of households unable to take part in online lessons and has expanded to other northern towns and cities.

Technology entrepreneur David Richards, who co-founded the campaign, said: “While it is welcome news that schools are reopening, we have to be prepared for more disruption in the coming months.

“Children must be able to safely access technology at home so they can keep up with their education and develop digital skills for the future.

“We applaud local government leaders in South Yorkshire for stepping up to meet the need and invest in the next generation of successful young people.”

Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: “Our young people have been hit hard by Covid, with many experiencing almost a year of disruption to their learning.

“Here in South Yorkshire we’re leading the way on tackling digital exclusion. In partnership with our local councils and Laptops for Kids, we’re ensuring that every young person has a brand-new laptop and internet connection – to minimise disruption to their education.

“I’ve always said that where you grow up should not determine where you end up, and I’m proud that we’re making that a reality in South Yorkshire.”

Margaret Bruff, Barnsley Council’s Cabinet spokesperson for Children’s Services, said: “Children’s education is a top priority for Barnsley Council and we are pleased that we have invested in child-friendly laptops in partnership with our schools.

“This will make sure that every child and young person in the borough has digital access for remote learning to support their education and catch up on lost learning following the impact of the pandemic."

The speed at which laptops have been sent out to schools so they can be passed onto families has prompted criticism of the Government and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, amid fears the shortage is widening existing inequalities.

In January, the Department for Education said more than 700,000 devices had been delivered to schools in England, with another 300,000 to come.