Monday 08 August 2022

5,000 students still have no access to technology

Your Device Your Right aims to bridge digital divide

More than 5,000 children do not have access to laptops, desktop computers or tablets to be able to do their homework or follow classes online, according to a survey that exposed a digital divide made more acute by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Misco survey carried out this summer showed 11 per cent of the 350 families interviewed did not have enough equipment for all their children — equivalent to more than 5,000 children in Malta — a situation that seems to be more prevalent among those sending their children to Church and State schools. 

Your Device Your Right, an initiative launched today by the Malta Trust Foundation, is seeking to bridge this divide by distributing second-hand refurbished laptops to students struggling to keep up with their classmates.

However, sourcing these devices is turning out to be a challenge and the project steering committee is making an urgent appeal to businesses and individuals to come forward and donate their old equipment.

“Can you imagine in our days going to school without a pen and paper? Well, this is the reality so many children are facing today because they have no access to a computer or tablet — these are the students who will lag behind,” a committee spokesperson said.

Through a previous agreement signed with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, its members are also being encouraged to donate used laptops and tablets; an initiative that will double up as an environmental incentive for technological hardware to be recycled.

The steering committee said that through MITA Cares and Vianet, this hardware was then  wiped clean, upgraded and refurbished before being passed on to students who have been identified by teachers, and referred by heads of schools as genuinely facing problems.

Your Device Your Right does not solely focus on providing the hardware, but also ensures disadvantaged families have free access to internet and proper training through separate agreements signed today with GO, and TCTC, which is contributing €35,000 worth of free training.

Malta Trust Foundation chair Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said the study set off alarm bells and exposed the cracks children risked falling into without the proper tools for their education.

“The study showed that the digital divide is very real and the pandemic has pushed this stark reality to the fore. Through Your Device Your Right we aim to address the educational divide and train parents and their children how to operate these devices,” Ms Coleiro Preca said.

Chamber president Marisa Xuereb added that digital literacy was indispensable in today’s world and no child could afford to be left behind. 

“The Chamber is a proud partner of the Your Device Your Right campaign. We believe all children matter, which is why we are committed to do our part. I would like to thank all our members who donated digital equipment and urge all businesses to follow suit. Every little bit helps. Your continued support will help close the digital divide, resulting in better work opportunities for the younger generation and a better work force,” she said.

The objective of the Misco survey was to gain insight into the situation and obtain information from parents on how the coronavirus pandemic impacted the education of their children aged four to 17.

The majority of parents interviewed, 61 per cent, sent their children to State schools, 35 per cent to Church schools and 11 per cent to independent schools.

Sixteen per cent of respondents said they experienced frequent internet connection problems at home, 41 per cent said they “sometimes have” connection issues, while 43 per cent hardly encountered any difficulties. 

When it came to following lessons online, 28 per cent of respondents said their children faced problems; an incidence that was higher among children attending State and independent schools.

Meanwhile, 13 per cent of respondents said their children struggled to complete their homework, a situation more prevalent among those attending Church schools.

The YDYR steering committee stressed that the Malta Trust Foundation was not duplicating the work being done by government, but filling in the gap for families in need.

Through a pilot project carried out over the past months, 55 refurbished laptops  have already been donated to referred students. 

The steering committee is calling on companies and individuals who may not have any used laptops to support Your Device Your Right by donating €350, as this would enable the Foundation to buy a refurbished computer.

You can take your devices to the Malta Trust Foundation located at Maison Notre Dame, St Calcedonius Square, Floriana, Mondays to Fridays between 8am and noon, or by sending an email to info@maltatrustfoundation.org.

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