More than 5,000 children still do not have access to a computer, laptop or tablet 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.
This emerged through a MISCO survey carried out this summer which showed that 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. The situation seems to be more prevalent among those sending their children to Church and State schools.
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," she said.
In order to address this, the Malta Trust Foundation in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce launched an initiative called Your Device Your Right to bridge this divide by distributing second-hand refurbished laptops to students struggling to keep up with their classmates.
The students in need of these laptops will be identified by teachers, and referred by heads of schools. Apart from being provided with the hardware, the initiative also seeks to provided these families with the skills to use computers as well as free internet access.
In light of this, a memorandum of understanding was signed by telecommunications company GO, that will provide the internet, and TCTC, which is contributing €35,000 worth of free training.
Malta Chamber of Commerce president Marisa Xuereb added that digital literacy was indispensable in today’s world and no child could afford to be left behind. She referred to a pilot project carried out over the past months through which 55 refurbished laptops have already been donated to referred students.
More than one in 10 students struggle with homework
The objective of the MISCO survey was to gain insight into the situation and obtain information from parents on how the 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.
The majority, 99 per cent, had internet access. 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.
Companies and individuals can provide used laptops to the initiative. Those who may not have any used laptops, can support Your Device Your Right by donating €350, as this would enable the Foundation to buy a second-hand computer.
Devices can be taken to the Malta Trust Foundation located at Maison Notre Dame, St Calcedonius Square, Floriana, Mondays to Fridays between 8am and noon. For more information contact email@example.com.