Report

Closing the Digital Divide for Good: An end to the digital exclusion of children and young people in the UK

Authors:
UNICEF UK
Carnegie UK Trust ‘Time for Action’
Source:
https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2021-06/apo-nid312856.pdf
Contributor:
Publication Year:
2021
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

In this report attached, published by Carnegie UK Trust in partnership with UNICEF United Kingdom, methods to address the growing digital divide among children in the United Kingdom is investigated and a long-term strategic approach is suggested. 

Foreword

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a monumental impact on education for every child and young person in the UK. But while all children have been affected, the poorest and most marginalised were those who struggled the most. This is particularly true of children who were digitally excluded – an issue we can no longer afford to ignore.

Of course, school is the best place for most children to learn. Teachers are the backbone of our education system. Their professional expertise in the classroom cannot be replicated on a computer.

That is why we campaigned constantly for schools to reopen sooner rather than later. But even with pupils learning again, the need to close the digital divide only grows as the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds. This generation has already been disadvantaged by the pandemic, and evidence shows the attainment gap between better and worse off students is already growing.

It is crucial that the Government equip all young people with the skills and experience they need to succeed, making a strong commitment to the levelling up agenda through digital inclusion. Already, nine million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills essential for employability. If action is not taken now to support children and young people, it is estimated that there will be a gap of four million highly skilled workers by 2024.

This means we can no longer rely on school-based connectivity to support children without access at home. Indeed, school closures during lockdowns highlighted the deepening digital divide for children and young people. In constituencies like Harlow and Mitcham & Morden, generous local initiatives provided pupils with the kit and connectivity they needed to get online but educational opportunity should not be dependent on local projects. It is a matter of social justice and opportunity that we ensure all children and young people are digitally empowered.

That is why we welcome this report, which sets out a clear and concrete way forward to end childhood digital exclusion.

The writers look beyond the end of the pandemic and set out an agenda for action that takes into account the skills and opportunities on the horizon. It calls for an inclusive approach that values children on par with educators and businesses, recognising that everyone has a role to play in ending the digital divide. It keeps a spotlight on an issue that is at risk of falling out of public discourse as schools reopen, leaving thousands of children behind.

This work should be part of a long-term plan for education, one that values skills and vocational learning alongside academic knowledge. This is also critical in the online context, as children live increasingly digital lives.

By setting out a long-term plan for education, developing a more comprehensive understanding of what digital inclusion is and why children are excluded, and ensuring there is comprehensive data collection, monitoring, and evaluation systems in place, the Government can improve standards, skills, social justice and support for the teaching profession. If we are truly serious about ensuring every child has equal opportunities to succeed in life and develop to their full potential, we must make sure they are digitally included. This paper sets out clearly how and why this must be done.

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