Join The Star’s campaign to give back to Sheffield’s young people

The Star has joined forces with two Sheffield companies to launch a new campaign which aims to close the ‘digital divide’ amongst disadvantaged young people.

By Lisa Wong
Thursday, 17th September 2020, 9:41 am

WANdisco - a data software company - and Learn Sheffield - a not for profit company - have come together to launch Laptops for Kids.

The campaign will help provide free computers to young people, many of whom currently have no access at home.

David Richards, founder and CEO of WANdisco, said: “Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not and the pandemic is worsening social and economic inequalities.

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David Richards, CEO of WANdisco and Abtisam Mohamed, Labour Councillor for the Firth Park Ward and Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.

“We must stop young people falling further behind just because they cannot log on for homework.

“It’s a tragic waste of potential and is storing up worrying problems for the future.”

As a result of the pandemic, many children have had to be homeschooled by their parents, but not every young person was able to do the school work that they needed to do, due to lack of computer or internet access.

Mum of four, Hannah Croft, was homeschooling three of her children throughout lockdown.

The Laptops for Kids campaign will provide free computers to young people in Sheffield.

She said: “I’m a single mum of four and my kids are all different ages.

“Homeschooling is hard enough but when you don’t have a computer, it becomes so much more difficult because all the work is set online.

“We had to use my mobile phone as the computer - you can imagine what it’s like when you’ve got three kids fighting over for their turn.

“It’s been a nightmare but thankfully they’re back at school now.”

Another Sheffield parent told of the worries she thinks the coronavirus crisis has had on her child as a result of not having access to a computer.

She believes it has not only damaged her daughter’s educational attainment but also her mental health.

Shana Williams, whose daughter is nine years old, said: “Everything was done online during the pandemic. It was all about Zoom wasn’t it?

“It’s not just in terms of school work. She used to go to dance classes which had moved online, her friends had ‘catch ups’ online at the weekends too.

“She missed out on those things, which I do feel guilty about.

“It broke my heart to have to explain that it was because her mum could not afford to buy a computer, or even an advanced enough phone with sufficient internet access.

“This wasn’t helped by the fact that I had been furloughed too, so I was still in limbo about whether I had a job to go back to.”

Mr James, a secondary school teacher, believes young people have it tougher today if they do not have access to a computer at home.

He said: “When I was at school, both classwork and homework was all on paper. The only time you used a computer was in actual IT classes, which was quite rare anyway.

"Now it's kind of vital. Kids do their homework online, it gets marked online etc.

"I suppose using computers like that is good for kids later in life as most workplaces now require some form of computer usage.

"During lockdown, my class had it’s own Twitter account and that would never be heard of back in my day!”

Research does show that the impact on disasters can negatively affect educational attainment and mental health.

Councillor Abtisam Mohamed, cabinet member for education and skills, said: “Sheffield City Council understands this has been an extremely challenging time for everyone in the city, especially young people whose education is being cruelly disrupted by the pandemic.

“That’s why we are delighted to launch the Laptops for Kids campaign with WANdisco and The Star to help increase internet access for young people and close the digital divide.

“We call on companies and organisations in the city to help young people keep up with their homework and gain confidence and skills in the digital world.”

Computers currently available through the Laptops for Kids scheme have all been donated.

The campaign is calling for support from other companies and organisations throughout the city.

They are asked to donate any unused equipment to help reduce the ‘digital divide’ in increasingly challenging times.

Companies and organisations wishing to donate devices are asked to securely erase them beforehand.

If this is not possible, WANdisco can help as it is also working in partnership with Blancco, who are data security experts offering free licences for the campaign.

Devices will be received by David and Jane Richards Family Foundation, a foundation set up by a husband and wife team aimed to educate, empower and improve the lives of children.

This will enable donor companies and organisations to claim tax reliefs.

Learn Sheffield will help identify the young people in need of a device and will also coordinate their distribution too.

Laptops for Kids follows in the footsteps of the government’s attempt to reduce the digital divide.

The Department for Education supplied a number of laptops to children from vulnerable families in the summer.

This came after a group of politicians and educational figures wrote to the government stating that at least 700,000 children had seen their school work suffer as a result of not having computer or internet access.

The scheme hoped to make an ‘immediate, tangible difference to some of the most vulnerable families in our society’, and it is hoped Laptops for Kids can do the same in Sheffield.

If you have devices to donate, email [email protected] to organise donations.

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