Principal concern at ‘digital divide’

THE ‘digital divide’ could be widening the gap between Northern Ireland’s best and worst performing pupils, according to a Lisburn principal.

Gillian Dunlop, Past President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union and head of Largymore primary, was responding to new findings which show that over a third of the UK’s poorest children do not have the internet at home and a similar number do not have a computer.

The breakdown of Office of National Statistics (ONS) data also showed that children from the wealthiest homes all had internet and computer access.

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“This digital divide can arguably harm poorer pupils’ education and may well be a contributory factor in the yawning gap we see between our best and poorest performing students at GCSE,” said Mrs Dunlop.

“At the very least, lack of a home internet connection or a computer could mean that children struggle to research homework or complete coursework; they may be unable to access school websites which allow them to submit work digitally and receive feedback from teachers.

Poverty is clearly a factor in poor access to digital learning technologies and poor performance at school. The link between the two cannot be ignored.”

The latest ONS Family Spending Survey analysed the income and expenditure of more than 11,000 households across the UK. The charity, E-Learning Foundation, extracted the data on computer ownership and internet access for families with children aged under 18.

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Overall, most children (89%) can get on to the internet via a computer at home but according to E-Learning Foundation this figure masks a divide between rich and poor.

The data shows that while 99% of children in the richest 10% of households can access the internet via a computer, this dropped to 57% in the poorest 10% of households with children.

In the poorest households 29% had no computer, 36% had no internet and 43% had no internet connection via a computer.

“Technology can underpin learning by making it more relevant and personalised for the child. It can also help those with special educational needs, particularly is they’re struggling to cope in a normal, classroom, helping them learn and complete work at their own pace,” said Mrs Dunlop.

“Technology can allow a school to deliver an education to a child wherever they are, not just in a classroom.”