Act faster to stop growing 'digital divide' amongst children and young learners, Children's Commissioner urges

Professor Holland's survey found some children and young learners had no access to a digital device at all.

The Children's Commissioner for Wales has called on the Welsh Government to improve access to digital devices for disadvantaged children learning from home to protect their education and life chances.

Professor Sally Holland surveyed 167 school and college leaders and found that around a fifth of students in some schools across Wales do not have access to a digital device.

Meanwhile, 46% of school learners surveyed struggled to access online educational resources due to insufficient data allowances.

Discussing the survey's findings, she told ITV Wales the pandemic had widened the gap between more privileged and disadvantaged children and students and that was likely to continue.

"The most worrying side was that the children who we know miss out throughout their lives, so the children from families with lower incomes, the children with parents who are less confident with education, are missing out even more now than they were before the pandemic" she said.

"Before the pandemic they could go into school and have those teachers and school staff to support them and help them really fulfil their potential and do their learning but now those gaps between the more privileged children and less privileged children are likely to continue growing."

The Children's Commissioner's research also found that many young learners were having to share digital devices, amongst its other key findings were:

  • In more than 52% of surveyed schools and colleges some households had no access to the internet at all

  • 12% of schools had at least 20% of learners with no access to a digital device

  • Colleges reported up to a fifth of learners had no digital device access

  • Sharing digital devices was common with more than half of young learners sharing access in 35% of schools and colleges

The Children's Commissioner has warned the 'digital divide' is only going to grow as the pandemic continues

Professor Holland has now called on the Welsh Government to ensure any children and young learners without a digital device are supplied with one "without delay".

She has also urged the government to speed up talks with UK mobile and broadband providers over the use of internet data for home learning.

The Welsh Government has recently said it's provided more than 133,000 laptops to learners across the country.

A recent independent report had also praised the Government, saying it had "led the way" in providing IT and online learning to pupils at home throughout the pandemic.

School children aged between three and seven are to return to the classroom after the February half-term, Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced on Friday.

Ms Williams said there was "sufficient headroom" to enable a phased return to school for Wales' youngest learners.

The youngest learners have been prioritised because they find it difficult to learn remotely and transmission risks are lower, she said.

Children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as those taking exams or assessments and learners in special schools, could continue to attend as they have done throughout the pandemic, the Education Minister added.

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