In this guest post, Claire Vyvyan, Dell UK general manager and executive director, Public Sector and Large Enterprises, discusses the issues facing disadvantaged children as the world becomes more and more digital centric
The UK is currently experiencing a digital divide between those who can afford the latest technology, and those lacking the necessary funds. Technological fluency comes at a fairly hefty price and businesses have a responsibility, alongside governments and NGOs, to find new solutions to break down the digital barricade and place all children, no matter what their background, on an even footing to become self-sustaining adults.
This is a particularly prevalent issue as the economy faces a recession and a shortage of readily available jobs. Many jobs that are available often require technical skills and access that are not easily obtainable by young people who lack emotional and financial support.
For example, a recent BBC survey showed that out of 20 of the world’s biggest organisations, which employ approximately four million people, 18 used some form of electronic selection. With the odds stacked against them, it is incredibly important that awareness is raised concerning the issues facing disadvantaged children and young people.
One of the simple ways we can help children is to offer access to technology so they can develop their skills and apply for jobs and schooling.
The focus of the average British family has changed dramatically in the last hundred years. Today, rather than supplying their kids with a simple notepad and pen to go off to school, parents scramble to buy the latest gadgets as soon as they hit the shelves.
With this expensive shift, it is easy to forget that many parents are unable to buy such luxuries. With current statistics showing that 70% of those living in ‘social housing’ are not online and 49% of people without access to the internet are in the lowest socio-economic groups, it’s not surprising that many are also facing digital poverty.
As the world becomes increasingly digitalised – and despite the great work by individual schools to help close the digital divide – success at schoolwork can often depend on access to virtual learning platforms and the Internet for research.
The monetary restrictions that stop children from becoming familiar with technology continue to restrict them from reaching their potential as self-sustaining adults. UK charities, including Action for Children and Transformation Trust, have realised the need to provide vulnerable children and young people with access to technology.
The charities that do focus on providing vulnerable children with the support and skills cannot function alone. They need the support of their communities – both financially and physically. That’s where businesses can step in. Be it through donating funds, equipment or time, businesses can play an important role in actively changing the lives of children.
One charity we work with is Action for Children, who have been working tirelessly for over 140 years to break the cycle of deprivation and empower children to achieve their full potential. Action for Children works with around 250,000 children and young people each year who cannot live with their birth families, who are disabled, who experience severe difficulties in their lives, or whose families need support.
A component of its work, and one that particularly requires donations and support from businesses, is its "Inspire IT" programme. "Inspire IT", which we support, provides young people with computer equipment and training to improve their skills. The ready access to computers and training allows Action for Children to level the playing field for the children they work with by eliminating digital exclusion.
Taking a different approach is the charity Transformation Trust, who work with some of the most challenged schools in the UK to offer their pupils opportunities and experiences that will help them develop both confidence and employer-friendly skills. Transformation Trust does everything from running expeditions, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to providing everyday after-school activities designed to increase team work, communication, problem solving and technological fluency. By offering support for these important skills and by providing access to technology, Transformation Trust is working to better prepare disadvantaged children to succeed in the adult world.
For both Action for Children and Transformation Trust, the expeditions, activities and technology provisions are expensive and require support from the community. They are increasingly crucial to changing the future of children. Beyond supplying the physical tools, children also need support to learn how to use technology to their best advantage.
For example, at Dell, we encourage employees to give ten hours of their own time per quarter teaching and supporting children in their quest to conquer the digital divide. As we’ve learned with our "Powering the Possible" programme, by sharing a few hours of your time teaching the skills you’ve learned in your job or through donating computers, there is an opportunity for all individuals and corporations to get involved to break the cycle of poverty.
As technology becomes increasingly ingrained in our daily lives, the next generation workforce will need to have a strong grounding in using all types of software and hardware to their best advantage. Most would regard the digital divide in the UK as the divide between the older and younger generations, assuming that it will gradually disappear over time.