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Norfolk County Council urged to tackle children's 'technological poverty'

Fears disadvantaged children are facing increased “technological poverty” during lockdown have sparked fresh calls for action to provide families with laptops.

County councillors are set to vote on plans to set up a non-profit to refurbish and distribute donated corporate computers for children.

It comes after the government provided just 1,800 laptops for children in Norfolk – which critics slammed as a “drop in the ocean”.

Students are receiving their IB grades on July 4, 2020, without having sat exams, due to the Covid-19 crisis (37946348)
Students are receiving their IB grades on July 4, 2020, without having sat exams, due to the Covid-19 crisis (37946348)

The council said it was working to support schools and families.

The motion, put forward by Norfolk County Council’s Labour group, would – if agreed – see the council aim to set up the scheme by October this year, and provide an initial 10,000 laptops.

Labour's Mike Smith-Clare said the motion was a “clear opportunity for Norfolk to lead the way in overcoming barriers to learning”.

He added: “It is imperative that young people have access to appropriate technology in order to reach their full potential. We need to do more to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds and we need to do more to end our county’s technological poverty.”

The motion, which will be debated at a full council meeting next Monday, July 20, states: “Public Health England data shows 21,670 children under-16 are living in low income families in the county.”

The council has “insufficient information” on whether “poverty impacts on educational achievement”, the motion states.

“However, the lockdown has highlighted the gap between educational opportunity and achievements of young learners from different backgrounds. The gap that already exists has been widened by remote learning and a lack of laptops and connectivity for children from less well-off backgrounds. This is a long-term, systemic, and urgent problem.”

The motion calls on council leader, Andrew Proctor, to authorise a business plan for the charitable non-profit, and for the council to agree to fund the costs of setting up the scheme via a grant, as well as offering short-term support from council staff.

Mr Smith-Clare said the plan for the business would also see it offer apprenticeship opportunities.

John Fisher, children’s services cabinet member, said: “We have been working with schools and families to support learning throughout the lockdown and that has included our participation in the government’s laptop scheme.

“I will respond in more detail to the motion at full council.”

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