Donated laptops help bridge digital divide

By Mary Dennehy

LEAVING Certificate students learning on mobile phones due to a lack of technology is among a number of inequalities identified by a Tallaght school in relation to remote learning.

After months of discussions around the Leaving Certificate, Old Bawn Community School’s  focus remains firmly fixed on its students, and the very real issues some are experiening in relation to remote learning.

OBCS computers 1

Deputy Principal Kevin Shorthall and Lorraine Curham of Tech2Students receiving a delivery of donated laptops from the Camara Education and Trinity Access programme

Since the first lockdown last March, the 1,000 pupil school has connected with students as they work from home, both from an academic and wellbeing perspective.

Continuous surveys have also being carried out by Old Bawn Commnunity School (OBCS) with students in relation to remote learning, which included surveys on technology in the early days.

Speaking with The Echo this week, Kevin Shorthall, Deputy Principal of OBCS, said that the technology surveys revealed serious inequalities with remote learning.

“Around 40 Leaving Cert students came back saying they were doing their lessons on their phone”, Mr Shorthall said.

“Imagine [studying for] your Leaving Certificate on your phone, and looking at this tiny screen.

“There’s WiFi issues as well for some students, and for others they may live in a house where three or four kids are remote learning and there’s only one or maybe two laptops.

“How is this a level playing field?”

In response to the situation faced by many families, OBCS has provided 88 free laptops to students – 30 of which the school purchased.

The remaining 60 laptops were donated to the school through a Camara Ireland and Trinity Access programme called Tech2Students – which aims to address the digital divide.

“There’s huge inequalities in remote learning... and families and students may not always say it”, Mr Shorthall said.

“If we notice someone not handing in work or who is a little quiet, our pastoral team will give the student a call.

“You really need to know your students, and we do.”

Mr Shorthall believes that technology for learning is a challenging situation faced by families nationwide.

“Families have enough to be dealing with”, Mr Shorthall said.

“From last April to September, the Government should have been dealing with a tech company [about purchasing laptops for all students].

“The money was there but it was used in an aimless way.

“It was a disjointed system, an unequal system.

“If it was up to me, I think the Government needs to look at this like the free book scheme.

“Introduce a free technology scheme, or it could be a credit scheme where instead of buying books every year, families pay for a laptop over five years [the secondary school cycle].

“Every kid gets a laptop in first year...and there’s a level playing field right across the country.”

Concluding, Mr Shorthall encouraged all parents to contact their children’s school if experiencing challenges with technology.

“No parent should worry about contacting their kid’s school and asking for help with technology”, he said.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘have you any laptops?’

“[The laptops we have provided] have made a difference to 88 families so far.”

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