Conquer the digital divide and help to close the gap on social exclusion

29th September 2006 at 01:00
At the Scottish Labour Party Conference in February, the Prime Minister announced the appointment of a "minister for social exclusion" and the whole topic continues to remain high among the Government's priorities.

The role that schools can play in helping to overcome any aspect of social exclusion is always likely to promote lively debate, and the "digital divide" is no exception. However, this is one factor which schools can effectively address, and are beginning to do so.

The digital divide, lack of access to ICT outside school, is just one symptom of social exclusion, and it can be both a contributory cause and, at the same time, an outcome of this self-perpetuating cycle of deprivation to which many children are subject.

Children in Scotland remain much more likely to be living in income poverty than either working-age adults or pensioners. There is now little doubt that ICT, integrated into learning skilfully and effectively, by good teachers, will motivate most learners, accelerate learning and raise achievement.

The continued existence of a digital divide should be of major concern to every school as we move towards greater personalisation, the using of virtual workspaces, managed learning environments and out-of-hours access to school networks, the internet and learning resources.

Our foundation is a national charity working with schools to overcome just the kind of disadvantage outlined above. The vision of the schools involved in our network is to provide portable learning technology for every pupil.

Of course, programmes like these are very expensive, and sustainability is not achieved through one-off grants but by working in close collaboration with parents, the ultimate stakeholders, and other (usually local) potential funding bodies.

Regular financial contributions from parents allow a school to acquire portable computers that can be used in school, and then taken home in the evening, at weekends and holidays for extended learning, and also to provide family access.

So far, Scotland has not allocated any specific pump-priming funding to schools wishing to start an e-Learning Foundation, but there is some good news. We have recently announced the start of a long-term collaboration between the e-Learning Foundation charity and DSGi, Europe's leading specialist electrical retailer and owner of well-known UK brands Currys, PC World and Dixons.

"Switched on Communities" is DSGi's three-year community investment programme that will support disadvantaged local communities. We would be pleased to hear from anyone that is interested in finding out more about this unique opportunity.

While Scottish schools have regularly been at the forefront of ICT development in the classroom, the role of ICT in the home and the way it can impact upon achievement, and particularly upon parental engagement in education, may not have been considered in such detail.

Doing nothing is not really an option.

Ray Moore

Development director

e-Learning Foundation

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