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Closing the Digital Divide

Volume 697: debated on Monday 21 June 2021

What plans he has to implement the recommendations of the UK Committee for UNICEF and the Carnegie UK Trust's report entitled “Closing the Digital Divide for Good”. (901508)

Over 1.3 million laptops and tablets and 75,000 4G wireless routers have been distributed to schools and local authorities. We are building on the Department’s significant investment in devices, platforms, training and digital services to develop an evidence-based strategy for the most effective long-term approach to digital technology in education.

Before the lockdown, children on the wrong side of the digital divide were already leaving school behind their classmates. Schools closed, and despite the Government’s tech roll-out and the great community effort right across the country, a quarter of children on free school meals did less than one hour’s school work a week. This is not a problem for the past; closing the digital divide will be critical to genuinely levelling up our tech-reliant society. Will the Government support my campaign calling for every child entitled to a free school meal to have internet access and an adequate device at home?

I read the joint article in The Times this morning by the hon. Member and my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about the UNICEF report and her objectives, and I agree with much of what they have both written, particularly about the importance of closing the digital divide. I am grateful for the acknowledgement in that article of the much needed support to disadvantaged children that the provision by this Government of 1.3 million laptops and tablets gave. One should not underestimate the size and scale of that procurement: 1.3 million devices built to order, shipped, configured and delivered to schools and local authorities, all at a time of peak international demand for such computer equipment.