Coronavirus lockdown: laptops available for online home courses


Student on a laptop

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It was feared that the poorest students would lose when lessons were taught online

Disadvantaged adolescents in England will be able to borrow laptops to help them study at home when schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Education Department also supports free online courses for elementary and high school students.

Laptops or tablets will be provided for some poor 15-year-olds who do not yet have access to a computer.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said it would “ease the pressure” on parents of children at home.

“Schools will remain closed until scientific advice changes,” said Williamson.

To help parents who now run their own classrooms, the government is promoting a series of 180 online lessons per week, for students from reception through grade 10.

Laptops or computers will be provided to some disadvantaged Grade 10 students – who will take their GCSE next year.

There is no specified number of laptops available or a fixed budget, and it will be up to schools or local authorities to decide who needs help accessing a computer.

They will also be available for children with a social worker or those leaving daycare – schools keeping computers when regular classes reopen.

There are also some 4G routers available to help families connect to the Internet.

The promises in technology reflect the fears that students from the poorest families will lose disproportionately during the dropout weeks.

A fiduciary academy, AET, has already purchased 9,000 laptops and devices to give a computer to all of its eligible students for free school meals, so they can stay connected.

For students learning at home, online courses have been prepared by teachers and educational organizations, including the Sutton Trust and Teach First, and will be available under the Oak National Academy label.

These will be one-hour lessons in a range of topics, presented by a teacher, with worksheets and a quiz.

The BBC will also launch a range of educational resources online and on television.

Geoff Barton, head of the ASCL principals union, praised efforts to keep students learning.

He supported the emphasis on Grade 10 students who had missed part of their GCSE course – and said there must be a “real sense of urgency” to support them.

But he said it was important to recognize how many families may not have up-to-date computers or may find it difficult to pay for broadband.

There are still “significant logistical challenges” with this support program, said Paul Whiteman, head of the National Association of School Principals.

“And most importantly, the speed at which these devices can be purchased and delivered,” he added.

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Gavin Williamson said providing laptops would relieve parents and schools

Anne-Marie Canning, executive director of the Brilliant Club which helps disadvantaged young people get into the best universities, said that access to technology is already a wealth gap in education.

“Digital exclusion takes many forms, from the lack of devices to the affordability of Internet contracts,” she said.

Being able to attend classes should not depend on “broadband status,” said Canning.

Williamson said, “By providing young people with these laptops and tablets and allowing schools to access high-quality support, we will allow all children to continue learning.”

“We hope this support will ease some of the pressure on parents and schools by providing them with more materials to use,” said the education secretary.

Williamson said on Sunday that “no decision has been made” on when to reopen schools in England, which closed on March 20.

Responding to a report from the Sunday Times suggesting that some students may return in early May, he tweeted: “I can reassure schools and parents that they will not reopen until scientific advice indicates it is the right time to do so. “


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