Bridging the digital divide, one desktop computer at a time
10 August 2020 at 3:29 pm
With offices around the country sitting empty, businesses have an opportunity to do some good by redistributing their abandoned desktops, screens and iPads to those in need, writes Sue Karzis, CEO of State Schools Relief.
The sudden and unexpected arrival of COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of our lives. For some, the impact has been harsher than others. Arguably, education has been one of the hardest hit areas, with the pivot to remote learning exposing a very real and obvious digital divide. For those who are already dealing with disadvantage, not having access to internet or adequate devices and other educational resources has made the transition extremely frightening and stressful.
According to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019, Australians are more connected than ever, yet the gaps are still clear. Andrew Penn, CEO of Telstra, said in the report foreword: “Across the nation the so-called ‘digital divide’ follows some clear economic, social and geographic contours and broadly Australians with low levels of income, education, employment or in some regional areas are significantly less digitally included.” Indeed, households with the lowest income have a digital inclusion score of 30.5 points lower than those in the highest household quintile.
What’s a community to do?
Understanding the digital divide, and the impact this is having on our children is one thing. But finding ways to help is where the community can really shine. And one way we’ve found to help is through bridging the digital divide.
There’s no denying technology can be expensive. Many students cannot afford the necessities such as textbooks and graphing calculators, let alone devices and the internet which are beyond the reach of many families. During the first lockdown, we learnt of thousands of families who had no internet and no devices, and heard that many students were trying to engage with their learning on small mobile phone screens with access to only intermittent internet connection. This means that students are not only struggling to get work done, at times, they’re struggling to even attend classes.
In a recent survey done by CISVic, of those seeking assistance, 60 per cent said school costs had negatively affected their children, while some reported their children were falling behind in their schooling and were missing out on the life of their school communities. According to the report, help with books, e-textbooks, e-bundles, and stationery was the most sought after form of relief at 67 per cent.
So what’s the solution?
Offices around the country are sitting empty, filled with abandoned desktop machines, screens and iPads as the masses make the temporary, and for some permanent, switch to working from home.
Our mission at State Schools’ Relief centres around providing assistance to students from challenging backgrounds so they can gain an education. Usually, this means providing new uniforms, footwear and educational resources. In this unprecedented time though, we had to adapt. So knowing that a lot of office equipment is no longer being used, and by calling on the community for help, State Schools’ Relief were able to supply approximately 1,000 new devices and 3,000 internet dongles to those who needed them.
The appreciation most definitely did not go unnoticed, with many parents, and students, reduced to tears upon receiving the digital help.
Help when help is needed
Large organisations have equipment that is no longer being used. This can make a huge difference to children and young people in need. In fact, desktop computers, which are currently sitting in offices unused, can be the difference between attending class or missing out, between being able to engage with education or a feeling of helplessness.
Ensuring our next generation is engaged in their learning is crucial. As the ADII 2019 states: “The benefits of the digital economy cannot be shared when some members of the community are still facing real barriers to online participation.”
We should not be letting the digital divide add to the stress that many families are feeling because of the global pandemic we’re facing.
This presents a huge opportunity for businesses who’d like to do some good.
While flashy iPads and the newest technology is great, at the end of the day, kids don’t need the latest gadgets. They just need something to help them learn and keep pace with the demands of this new, online environment. For many students, simply being able to continue their education is the biggest win of all.
About the author: Sue Karzis is the first female chief executive officer of State Schools Relief, a Victorian based not-for-profit organisation that supports the needs of financially disadvantaged school students by providing them with new school uniforms, footwear and educational resources during times of vulnerability. Sue is also the treasurer of the Victorian Student Representative Council, a role she commenced in early 2020.