NI businesses called to help young people get digitally connected

  • Business in the Community (BITC) is calling for Northern Ireland employers to provide the hardware, data and digital skills needed to ensure learning support for young people.

    Its #DigitalDonationsAppeal has been launched to complement the work already being done by the Department of Education and the Education Authority to ensure support is provided to disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.

    The responsible business network said that if every business in Northern Ireland could donate just one device, every young person who is struggling with digital connectivity could be supported.

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    Ofcom estimates that about 9% of children in the UK – between 1.1m and 1.8m – do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home.

    The ‘disadvantage gap’ (disparity in learning and education outcomes between disadvantaged children and more affluent peers) is exacerbated during school holiday periods.

    Summer holidays can account for two thirds of the gap between rich and poor children at age 14. Not having access to devices/data to support ongoing learning throughout the school year can heighten this.

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    BITC is calling for businesses to support the Digital Donations Appeal through cash donations, by donating new devices or devices that can be repurposed (including PCs, monitors, laptops and tablets) and by encouraging staff to volunteer to help support schools with online digital skills support.

    Kieran Harding, Managing Director at BITC said: “We are asking businesses to help children and young people, our workforces of our future, to get the digital access they deserve.

    "By donating devices, data usage or volunteering their time for digital skills support, businesses are making remote learning less of a struggle for families going through a challenging time.

    “The situation is critical, and it is more important than ever to plug the digital gap.

    "A&L Goodbody, Allstate NI, Arup, Belfast Harbour, BT, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Danske Bank, Henderson Group, Heron Bros, Liberty IT, Power NI, Progressive Building Society, PSNI, RPS, Sensata and Unosquare have already donated to the appeal in a variety of ways, but we need more businesses to get involved to ensure we can achieve our aim of getting 10,000 children the resources they need to reach their full potential.”

    Education Minister Peter Weir also welcomed the initiative "and the support offered by BITC and their partners to complement the current DE schemes to provide digital devices, free wifi and mobile connectivity to children and young people, including those in rural settings, who may not have had access to digital technology."

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    The NI Department of Education has to date procured over 25,000 digital devices for young people through its lending scheme. It is also providing free wifi for children lacking digital access, and funding for schools and colleges to set up a digital education platform.

    David Thompson, Head of Digital Channels at Danske Bank commented: “In Northern Ireland digital inclusion is a tale of two halves. In our own customer base, digital touchpoints have far outnumbered other customer interactions for some time.

    "And yet, many households still don’t have either the technology, the internet access, or sometimes just the skills to participate fully in today’s digital world.

    "The pandemic has simply highlighted the true extent of the digital divide here. We’re committed to helping to tackle to issue through our role as a Digital Champion, working in collaboration with others in the private, public and third sectors.”

    The campaign is being championed by Belfast Harbour, Danske Bank, Power NI and the PSNI.

    RELATED: Calls for NI's tech community to combat children's 'tech poverty'

    Visit www.bitcni.org.uk for more information on the Digital Donations Appeal or to offer your support.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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