"Closing the Digital Divide” is an Essex County Council (ECC) initiative, aimed at providing laptops to children and young people, who would otherwise be without access to a device at home.
By the end of next week, some 3,000 iPads, Chromebooks and laptops will have been distributed to schools across the county for them to give to families in need.
The scheme, launched in autumn 2020, saw 500 devices delivered before Christmas to colleges across Essex and to schools in Basildon, which had to move to online learning because of the sharp rise of Covid-19 cases. A further 2,500 devices are going out to secondary schools across the county this month.
ECC is also working with primary schools to find out how many younger children are without online access. An initial four hundred iPads are ready to meet urgent requirements, some of which have already gone out in Tendring district.
This initiative builds on a Government scheme, launched in summer 2020, that provided 2,500 devices for the most vulnerable children in year 10 at local authority-maintained schools and care settings in Essex. In addition, schools are also able to apply for more this month via the government portal.
Laptops under the Essex scheme are being distributed to secondary schools on a city / borough / district basis, for the schools to pass on to parents. Families with no access to a device are the first priority. Depending on supply and demand, it is hoped that additional devices can be provided to larger families.
Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Cllr Louise McKinlay said: “With home-schooling here once again, we want to ensure that as many children as possible can partake in online lessons from their school. To do this, technology is of course vital and by investing in these devices, we can support our schools to deliver lessons to our children. It is crucial that during this period of lockdown and the pandemic that our children’s education is at the forefront of all we do.
“By next week we’ll have shared 3,000 devices with secondary schools. We are now working with primary schools to identify their pupils’ needs and hope to start delivering to them on 20 January.
I am determined that as a county council we’ll continue to support schools and families to ensure that we can reach as many children as possible.”
Cllr McKinlay also appealed for businesses to donate old devices to the scheme.
“Last year, when lockdown was eased, we were able to accept some donations. We had a fantastic response with more than 700 being offered. I would like to thank everyone who has donated a device. Your generosity is making a big difference to young people’s education.
“I am keen that we continue to build on all that has been done so far. Due to COVID restrictions, we cannot currently accept donations from individuals but we can collect from companies who may be upgrading their hardware and we would love to receive your old laptops. Our partners at EOL IT services will cleanse and recondition the machines so they are ready for use.”
The device must be a laptop, we cannot accept other devices currently. It does not matter the age, make or condition as they will all either be re-used or the parts will be sold to buy new equipment with the money raised.
Once received, all laptops are thoroughly cleaned inside and out with all data and programmes removed securely, no data on the device will be accessed during this process.
As lockdown eases, it is hoped that individuals will once again be able to contribute to the scheme. Details will follow in due course.
To donate or find out more please email TSLaptop.Donations@essex.gov.uk.