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Education Grants: Addressing the Digital Divide

Credit: Maria Symchych-Navrotska

St Giles & St George recognised early on that lack of access to digital devices was a significant barrier for low-income families to support their children with home-schooling during Lockdown 1.  Our Trustees agreed an initial budget of £50,000 in May 2020 (later extended to £60,000) for digital devices.

Feedback from schools indicated that many parents had smartphones but these are not ideal for enabling children to do schoolwork or to keep them entertained, so laptops or tablets are vital.  Also, many families did not have broadband at home and were concerned about data limits on existing contracts so we also offered dongles or MiFi devices with a 12-month data contract to enable connectivity too.

  • Wave 1 – Local schools were encouraged to identify pupils and families that were most in need and source devices through their usual computer providers.  By working together, we were able to respond really quickly to the need.  By the end of June, we had awarded and paid £48,000 to nine primary schools and one secondary school.  Altogether, we supported 123 local families by providing 121 laptops or tablets, and 75 dongles or MiFi devices with 12‑month data contracts.
  • Wave 2 – In Autumn, we extended the scheme to local charities and asked them to identify any families they support that were in need of devices.  Within a month, we had awarded a further £5,000 to three charities and supported another 20 families with laptops.
  • Wave 3 – When Lockdown 3 was announced and families had to home-school again, we invited schools to apply for a further round of grants.  One grant of £2,700 was approved for a local school to buy 11 laptops for their families.

Although other schools were interested, many of them were receiving digital devices via government schemes by now and no longer needed our funds.

In addition, 40% of a £43,000 grant to the Federation of Westminster Special Schools awarded in partnership with Westminster Foundation in June 2020 was spent on purchasing tablets (plus a few dongles and data contracts) for all 140 special needs pupils attending College Park and Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee schools.

Hear from some recipients of the scheme about what it means for them:

Another huge thank you to you and the team involved in making laptops available to our clients.  It means so much as the young recipient below explains.  This makes all the difference to Maya’s ability to interact and learn during these challenging times.  Please do feel free to pass our gratitude on to the lovely people at St Giles who made it possible.  In years to come, I truly believe Maya will remember this amazing act of generosity and community ‘caring’ rather than the darker, more alarming concerns of living through a pandemic.” – Jeanita, Cardinal Hume Centre

Dear Jeanita, I would like to thank you for the laptop, it really made my daughter Maya so happy, so Maya would like to write you something on this email.

Good evening Jeanita, Thank you so much Jeanita and the people which bought me the laptop!  I already love the laptop, I can’t thank you enough.  I’m so happy and now I can finally do choir musical session on Zoom on my new laptop.  Again, thank you, take care and be safe!  Lots of love, Maya

We did not have a computer at home so my two daughters would come to the Centre for one-to-one computer sessions and to get help with their homework.  In Autumn, the Centre donated a laptop to our family – it made a massive difference because it means they can do schoolwork from home.” – Khaltom, a 38-year old, mother of four

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