Local families isolated in lockdown with limited or no internet access are finally getting connected thanks to a project which is providing free laptops and full fibre broadband.
The council is working with LETTA Trust schools, Poplar HARCA, the East End Community Foundation and Community Fibre to provide devices, good quality internet connection and training for parents. The aim is to prevent children with poor access to online learning falling further behind as home-schooling continues during the pandemic.
Mayor John Biggs said: “Finding ways to address the digital divide in our communities has never been more important. Families that are unable to access the internet find themselves cut off from access to services, advice and information, contact with loved ones and in the context of the pandemic, crucial education resources for their children.
"I’m pleased that we are able to support this project which will make a genuine difference to hundreds of local families in our borough. Moving forward we will look to expand not only this scheme, but also other initiatives that make digital inclusion a priority. We recognise there is more work to be done to ensure every child is connected and has the right equipment to access effective tutoring and education.”
In many schools across Tower Hamlets, over half of pupils do not have access to a device to carry out essential home learning and interact with their teachers. National research shows that in the most deprived schools, only 16 per cent of pupils are taking part in lessons online every day, worsening an already a significant attainment gap between the poorest and richest children.
Jo Franklin, Trust Leader for the LETTA Trust, said: “When lockdown began, learning moved online. Teachers set work online, created videos of lessons and emailed activities to parents. To access their learning children needed a device, a good quality internet connection and someone at home to help them. Within days we found that this was not always the case.
“Fearing the profound impact that Covid-19 would have on the educational achievement of our pupils, we sent home chromebooks, purchased dongles and provided support by phone. But this was only a short term solution. Working alongside local partners, we set up this digital inclusion project to provide eligible families with a great internet connection, a device and training, all for free. This is a long term solution to tackle the digital divide and minimise the impact of the pandemic on educational achievement.”
Babu Bhattacherjee, Director of Communities and Neighbourhoods at Poplar HARCA added: “The Covid-19 pandemic is having the most profound impact on the most disadvantaged in our community. Improving digital access and skills holds the potential to have a life-changing effect and we will continue working with partners to help more residents access essential online services with support and training from experienced volunteers and staff.”
Tracey Walsh, Chief Executive of EECF said: “Having launched our East End Emergency Fund to support those in need during the health crisis with food and essentials, we quickly learnt many low income homes are without broadband and kit. Having information at our fingertips is something many of us take for granted and we would be lost without it, so I’m pleased the partnership can make this a reality for others too."
Graeme Oxby, Chief Executive Officer of Community Fibre said: “Community Fibre is on a mission to provide fast, affordable, and reliable Internet to everyone in London. Working closely with Tower Hamlets Council and Poplar HARCA we have already upgraded over 10,000 properties in the borough with 100% full fibre connectivity. Our mission to connect London’s communities drives us to upgrade thousands of properties each month. We are delighted to be working with our partners to support education for children, young people and their families with connectivity during this difficult time.”
Poplar HARCA, the LETTA Trust, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the East End Community Foundation, Morgan Stanley and the Lehman Foundation are providing £100,000 funding to support 200 families initially, with Community Fibre providing broadband connections worth over £24,000.
The partners aim to expand the programme to up to 10,000 families across the borough over the next year.
Posted on Wednesday 1st July 2020