Businesses called to help young people get digitally connected to support their learning and protect their futures
If every business in Northern Ireland could donate just one device, every young person who is struggling with digital connectivity could be supported.
Responsible business network Business in the Community Northern Ireland (BITC) is asking companies in NI to get behind the Digital Donation Appeal.
Ofcom estimates that about 9% of children in the UK – between 1.1 million and 1.8 million – do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. Many thousands live in a household with only a mobile internet connection meaning that they are unable to connect to their school, teachers or friends and may fall farther behind their peers.
The ‘disadvantage gap’ (disparity in learning and education outcomes between disadvantaged children and more affluent peers) is exacerbated during school holiday periods. Summer holidays can account for two thirds of the gap between rich and poor children at age 14. Not having access to devices/data to support ongoing learning throughout the school year can exacerbate this.
Business in the Community is working with businesses through its #DigitalDonationsAppeal to complement the work already being done by the Department of Education and the Education Authority to ensure support is provided to disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.
BITC is calling for businesses to support the Digital Donations Appeal in three ways:
- Through cash donations to help purchase new and repurpose equipment
- By donating new devices or devices that can be repurposed – including PCs, monitors, laptops and tablets
- By encouraging staff to volunteer to help support schools with online digital skills support
Organisations are already beginning to step up and the campaign is being championed by Belfast Harbour, Danske Bank, Power NI and the PSNI.
Kieran Harding, Managing Director, BITC said: “We are asking businesses to help children and young people, our workforces of our future, to get the digital access they deserve. By donating devices, data usage or volunteering their time for digital skills support, businesses are making remote learning less of a struggle for families going through a challenging time.
“The situation is critical, and it is more important than ever to plug the digital gap. A&L Goodbody, Allstate NI, Arup, Belfast Harbour, BT, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Danske Bank, Henderson Group, Heron Bros, Liberty IT, Power NI, Progressive Building Society, PSNI, RPS, Sensata and Unosquare have already donated to the appeal in a variety of ways, but we need more businesses to get involved to ensure we can achieve our aim of getting 10,000 children the resources they need to reach their full potential.”
Education Minister Peter Weir said: “I welcome this initiative and the support offered by BITC and their partners to complement the current DE schemes to provide digital devices, free wifi and mobile connectivity to children and young people, including those in rural settings, who may not have had access to digital technology.
“My officials, along with Education Authority colleagues, have been working closely with the BITC team to ensure devices are made available for those most disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.”
Joe O’Neill from Belfast Harbour said: “Supporting projects that help ensure that children and young people have the best start in life is a key facet of Belfast Harbour’s community engagement activity. The pandemic has made it clear that there continues to be a technology gap when it comes to access to education and we know that reduced access to digital technology can hold otherwise bright and talented students back from developing the skills they need to thrive. Belfast Harbour is committed to doing its part to support our community and to help meet needs where we can.”
David Thompson, Head of Digital Channels at Danske Bank, said: “In Northern Ireland digital inclusion is a tale of two halves. In our own customer base, digital touchpoints have far outnumbered other customer interactions for some time. And yet, many households still don’t have either the technology, the internet access, or sometimes just the skills to participate fully in today’s digital world. The pandemic has simply highlighted the true extent of the digital divide here. We’re committed to helping to tackle to issue through our role as a Digital Champion, working in collaboration with others in the private, public and third sectors.”
William Steele, Power NI Customer Solutions Director said: “We are delighted to continue to power communities through our support for the Digital Donations campaign. Technology is a huge part of the energy sector and we want to help future generations have access to all opportunities available, allowing them to forge a career in their chosen field.”
Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said: “We are pleased to be a part of the Digital Donation Appeal which aims to help young people all over Northern Ireland with their educational needs by ensuring they are digitally connected. The Police Service will continue to work with partners to provide support and advice to young people on internet safety.”
Visit www.bitcni.org.uk for more information on the Digital Donations Appeal or to offer your support.