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Can businesses help bridge education’s digital divide?

by Jackson B

By Carmen Ene, CEO at 3stepIT

The global pandemic and the restrictions it has placed on our daily lives has widened the digital divide in society and, in many cases, children are paying the price.

Schools in the UK will remain shut until March, while Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands have only just reopened their primary schools after weeks of being shut down.

Those that are working from home and have access to technology still have a lot of home learning to get through. Yet there is a large portion of schoolchildren that are at risk of being left behind now, and seriously disadvantaged in the future, because they do not have access to technology.

With government schemes trying their best to provide vital access to technology, can businesses play a part in helping bridge the digital divide?

What is the ‘digital divide’?

When the pandemic hit and school closures were announced, employees working from home had to take up the two roles of full-time worker, part-time teacher.

Children that had access to technology could simply log on to their laptops and sign into online classes.But many still don’t have access to the technology required to keep up with their peers, with the digital divide more widespread than many people were initially aware of.

The ‘Computers for All’ campaign in Finland, for example, aims to prevent digital exclusion and help children keep learning despite their circumstances by providing much-needed access to IT equipment.

Company devices that are no longer needed are collected, refurbished and donated to students across Finland who cannot afford to buy laptops, with data wiped from devices before they are distributed to ensure they are secure and safe for both old and new recipients.

A report compiled by the European Commission suggests that the switch to home learning will widen existing educational inequalities as students from less advantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to relevant learning digital resources and a suitable

home learning environment.

That many disadvantaged children are now being tasked with catching up with their learning from home, yet unable to utilise online resources as those with greater access to technology, will only widen the gap.

How can businesses bridge the gap?

As of February 2021, the UK government has delivered just under one million laptops and tablets as part of its bid to get more devices to schools and colleges during the pandemic.

In Austria, a content platform developed by the government, Eduthek, offers learning material from external providers for schoolchildren of all levels to gain access to digital tools.

But if there was ever an opportunity for businesses to make a positive contribution, it’s now..

It’s not as if businesses are currently lacking in old, unused equipment either. Almost one third (29%) of office desktop PCs have been left abandoned in offices across Europe as employees shifted to remote working, while almost a quarter (23%) of office PCs are not expected to be required over the next year.

Businesses and IT leaders responsible for this technology are unsure of what to do with equipment once they’re no longer needed, with many simply locking devices up in cupboards, or worse, sending them to landfill for incineration.

Reuse, refurb, recycle, repeat

Many don’t realise that they can recoup tech investments and develop more sustainable practices with a positive social impact.

By implementing circular economy IT strategies and ensuring their old tech has the chance to be reused, businesses are fuelling a growing secondhand market, which is crucial to improving access to technology.

Not everyone can afford the latest technology, but they don’t necessarily need it either. As the refurbished market moves into the mainstream, there is hope that we can close the digital divide by providing access to technology to those who need it most.

Instead of dumping or destroying old devices, businesses who adopt Technology Lifecycle Management as an IT solution, will send old IT to be refurbished and use the value of those unwanted devices towards their digital transformation.

Meanwhile, the refurbished laptops, desktops and monitors can be made available to education institutions or charities as part of a thriving secondhand market.

There’s work to be done to bring the use of refurbished devices into the mainstream, but we are seeing increasing demand for this as people realise a device in its second lifecycle still offers enormous value.

Businesses have a big role to play – during a time when so many families and communities are struggling, it’s a win-win solution for every company, and their communities.

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