Digital poverty: Hundreds without devices, warn leaders

A third of colleges do not have sufficient internet-enabled devices for students to study at home, new research shows

Kate Parker

Digital poverty: A third of FE colleges warn that they don't have enough laptops or devices for remote learning

A third of colleges in England have more than 300 students with inadequate internet access at home, new research from the Association of Colleges reveals.

The research shows that while 64 per cent of colleges felt they now had sufficient devices for students to study online, 36 per cent stated that they still did not.

Around a third of of all colleges in England responded to the AoC survey.

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In February, it was revealed that more than 49,000 laptops and tablets had been delivered to FE colleges in England by the Department for Education.

This came after the government announced last summer that colleges should use existing budgets to support learners in need of devices or other support, but could seek additional funds from the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

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Subsequently, in January, the DfE said colleges and other FE institutions could order laptops and tablets from the government to provide further support through the Get Help with Technology programme.

More than one-third of colleges, however, said the programme would not provide enough devices for each 16- to 18-year-old to have their own device to access learning remotely. 

Some colleges, according to the survey, received a good number of devices but few dongles to allow an internet connection, which led to many devices being unable to be utilised.

Other colleges reported that students had to share devices with parents/carers or siblings in the third lockdown. One college said it had 1,006 requests for laptops but only received 333 from the Get Help with Technology Scheme so had to resource the additional 673 laptops itself.

The majority of colleges (96 per cent) said that being from a low-income family was the main reason for students not having access to devices or an internet connection, with 86 per cent per cent saying that some students did not have their own device for learning, despite sufficient household income. 

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the AoC, said: “Students have benefited greatly from the support with technology and internet access but over a third of colleges still don’t have adequate devices for students. With almost all colleges stating that being from a low-income family was the main reason students did not have access to devices or the internet, we need to ensure continued support is available every year.

"The scale of the issue should not be underestimated as we enter a period of hardship for many families suffering long-term financial instability from the pandemic. Get Help with Tech needs to be a permanent scheme for students beyond this year who will likely face further difficulty accessing their learning.”

The Department for Education declined to comment. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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