Appeal for laptops and iPads to help needy Preston pupils access online learning during Coronavirus crisis

Preston councillor Pav Akhtar is appealing for local businesses and individuals to donate their old or no longer used laptops and iPads to help youngsters with home schooling.

Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 11:05 am
City Coun Pav Akhtar and his sister Takhsin - working to help local youngsters access online learning

He believes his just launched “Online Learning For All” campaign will help bridge the digital divide which has left local children from less affluent families without the tools to access online education resources.

Coun Akhtar, who represents the Plungington ward on Preston City Council, said it is clear some families are struggling to help their youngsters when it comes to supporting home schooling following school closures due to Coronavirus.

He said: “My sister, a (local) community nurse, spotted how so many deprived families don’t have access to computers. I spoke to my friends in IT. I contacted schools who agreed there’s a real problem. There is massive digital inequality.

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Getting up to speed with technology. A parent/ child learning experience at Eldon Primary school before the Coronavirus lockdown.

"It was clear that the children were missing out on a whole host of online resources and tools, and schools were finding it difficult to connect with those children just by phone or in some cases paper based resources."

Noting that early years are crucial in terms of educational progress and attainment and the link between inequalities in education and in health he said he, his sister and a friend who is a specialist in IT are now working voluntarily to help provide local children with donated digital resources.

Recent Government announcements on IT help for students focused on older schoolchildren in Year 10 and he said:“I am thinking about all the other kids in years one to nine and pre-school. What about these?”

He continued: “What can we do locally? A lot of companies only use tech for a short amount of time before it becomes too vulnerable or too old so we get rid of it. I’ve two iPads - one is old and slow and I’m happy to donate it. There will be people with old laptops, PCs, iPads. There must be people willing to donate.”

He said he had linked up with schools in three of the most deprived wards in the city - his own Plungington ward, St Matthew’s ward and the Fishwick and Frenchwood ward. Staff at Eldon Primary School, St. Matthew’s C.E. Primary and Frenchwood Primary will advise on the children most in need of equipment.

He said: "What we’ve uncovered during the Coronavirus crisis is how vulnerable children’s access to education is in our city of Preston."

Coun Akhtar said any donated equipment could be delivered to him or he would collect it.

All items would be cleaned and sanitised to the highest standards. “People can bag it and deliver it. Alternatively I’m happy to come and collect it from them at their homes. Please donate any equipment you may no longer need.

”We will wipe them, (the hardware content and each physical unit for infection control purposes to NHS standards), and then we will distribute them to our schools. Our aim is to get 50 units and then take it from there. If (and that’s a big IF) there is excess supply we will roll out to other schools in Preston."

He continued: "It’s all being doing completely voluntarily. Whilst a lot of people are feeling the hardship, what we’ve uncovered during the Coronavirus crisis is how vulnerable children’s access to education is in our city of Preston. This initiative has came about because an NHS nurse, a councillor, and a local IT professional decided to support our amazing teachers. "

He added that social distancing requirements would be rigorously observed during collection and delivery of equipment.

Azra Butt, headteacher at Eldon Primary School, said: "Since March 23 the whole realm of schools and how children learn has been turned on its head. Our teachers and staff have worked tirelessly by setting the vast majority of work online, mainly using our class blogs (through our school website) and through ClassDojo (a home/school communication platform). However, having evaluated how well home learning is working for our families, it is very noticeable that quite a few of our children are struggling to access this work due to a lack of technological equipment."

She continued: "The world of schooling has drastically been changed and any support for our children to access their home learning online will not only support ‘the new way’ of learning but will also prove motivational for all."

If you can help contact Coun Akhtar on Twitter at @pav_akhtar or by email at [email protected] or message @suleman_sarwar7 or @akhtartakhsin

*The Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison has added his voice to calls for support for pupils without access to computers. He said: “There is a huge gap in getting laptops and connectivity to homes with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many Northern businesses have been responding to this challenge and making their own donations.”

He warned that “the disadvantage gap in education” was growing weekly and welcomed the Government’s recently announced decision to loan laptops or tablets to some disadvantaged pupils n Year 10 who are due to take GCSEs next year.

But he warned the remaining gap needed to be closed once schools re open and planning for this needs to start now with funds earmarked for a catch up initiative.