€5m IT fund needed to support disadvantaged children with remote learning – SVP

€5m IT fund needed to support disadvantaged children with remote learning – SVP

SVP has received 300 requests for financial support with IT equipment to help children with remote learning since Covid-19 forced the closure of schools earlier this year.

A €5 million IT fund is needed to provide laptops and tablets and other equipment to disadvantaged children while schools are closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has said.

Government funding to address the emerging digital divide among children being home-schooled was “insufficient” and risked leaving already disadvantaged children at a greater educational disadvantage, the national charity said.

Instead, a €5 million discretionary fund could allow schools to apply for IT equipment on behalf of pupils.

SVP has received 300 requests for financial support with IT equipment to help children with remote learning since Covid-19 forced the closure of schools earlier this year.

A recent survey of 200 local SVP units also found that half had direct requests for help with digital devices since March 2020, while three-quarters provided help for food to free up resources for online learning costs. The most common type of support provided was help with the cost of laptops and tablets, followed by broadband.

The charity has also called for a temporary increase to social welfare payments for qualifying children to help with higher living costs in the home while schools remain closed – an extra €30 a week for children over 12 and €15 a week for children under 12, costing an estimated €8.4m per week.

SVP president Rose McGowan said children and young people living in poverty or on low incomes were most affected.

Many students are unable to keep up with their schoolwork because they do not have the space or the right technology for online learning. 

"For many households struggling on a low income, having a laptop and broadband is a luxury, not a necessity,” Ms McGowan said.

The charity’s social justice committee said Department of Education funding for IT equipment was insufficient and the charity was bridging the IT gaps on the ground.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP head of Social Justice, also expressed concern over the impact of school closures and the digital divide on children living in emergency accommodation, the Traveller community, and direct provision.

“We are particularly concerned for children living in homeless accommodation and direct provision where school is a respite from their cramped living conditions,” Dr Keilthy said.

“Children and young people from the Traveller community and families experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’, living in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions experience similar difficulties,” she added.

The Department of Education said €50m was allocated to schools in December for the 2020-2021 school year to support remote teaching in the event of school closures due to Covid-19.

“Schools can use this funding to acquire software applications or platforms to enable remote learning and communications, and to provide for devices to be loaned to teachers and learners, in particular, where needed to enable engagement with remote learning,” a department spokesperson said.

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