Covid-19 highlights broadband issues for students from rural and disadvantaged areas

Nearly half of schools have reported access to broadband and technology as being a problem during the coronavirus lockdown.
Covid-19 highlights broadband issues for students from rural and disadvantaged areas
The ESRI found that students from DEIS schools and rural areas had less access to the technology needed to engage with online learning.
The ESRI found that students from DEIS schools and rural areas had less access to the technology needed to engage with online learning.

Nearly half of schools have reported access to broadband and technology as being a problem during the coronavirus lockdown.

New ESRI research shows students from disadvantaged areas and those with special needs have suffered the most from the switch to remote learning.

It found that students from DEIS schools and rural areas had less access to the technology needed to engage with online learning.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, ESRI Research officer Dr Gretta Mohan said the pandemic has thrown the digital divide into sharp relief.

“Students of schools located in areas with poorer broadband and lower incomes have less access in their homes to information and communication technology,” she said.

“That is the laptops, computers and broadband that have been used for distance learning over the Covid-19 school closures.

“The fear is that these students are more disadvantaged and have missed out on their learning outcomes over the three months.”

She said the divide means students in Ireland’s cities have a clear advantage over their rural counterparts.

“When we split the schools by poorer broadband areas, which by-and-large are rural, we saw this issue of the digital divide much more prominently,” she said.

“57% had that issue compared to areas where they have more universal broadband and that would typically be urban areas or town centres so there has been a real split there.”

She said Leaving Cert students were hardest-hit by the shutdown – with 84% of schools warning that it had negative effects on the wellbeing of their sixth years.

Meanwhile, up to 70% of schools said their Leaving Students’ motivation and engagement was a lot lower due to the pandemic.

The study was carried out in partnership with the Department of Communications and ComReg.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton said the findings “underline the importance and urgency of rolling out the National Broadband Plan (NBP).” “We must bridge the divide between those who have access and those that do not,” he said.

“By providing high-speed broadband to every home and school in the country, the NBP will ensure that every child in the country has the same opportunity to access online resources.”

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