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Schools across Birmingham have continued to deliver lessons and other educational activities digitally for pupils who remain learning from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, at the start of the pandemic, there were at least 5,000 disadvantaged young people in the city who did not have the necessary technology to continue with their education. Without suitable access to digital devices, such as laptops, and a robust internet connection, this group were likely to fall behind their peers while they were unable to attend school.
Recent government initiatives to provide devices and connectivity for young people have helped bridge this gap, but some pupils sit outside the criteria of eligibility and need further support. Birmingham City Council and local schools are working to address this and separately so is Entrust Support Services (Entrust), part of Capita, which provides education services to schools, academy trusts and local authorities.
Entrust has strong relationships across the education technology sector including Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP) who they have partnered with to create the Digital Education Partnership (DEP). The DEP project has expanded to include other partners including: Digital Birmingham, the Birmingham e-Learning Foundation (BeLF), and the Titan Partnership. The project is working to provide devices to those children who need them to continue with their education and has distributed 250 so far.
The DEP project is working to deliver, maintain and run these devices. They are doing so by enabling schools to repurpose decommissioned devices and where schools aren’t able to recommission devices, the partnership is funding or part-funding new devices and internet connectivity. Additionally, the partnership is providing technical support to schools to deal with any troubleshooting and ensure that the digital systems including security, that are used on the devices, continue to function.
The project is ongoing and to ensure demand is met, the DEP continues to seek funds, donations and devices for repurposing and reuse.
John Doherty, Chief Executive of Entrust Support Services, said: “I am proud of the work of every member of our team and our partners involved in establishing and running the Digital Education Partnership. This initiative, along with the separate work by Birmingham City Council and local schools, will ensure that young people, from disadvantaged backgrounds in Birmingham, can continue with their education and engage with their teachers, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, until they can return back to school on a full-time basis.”
Manjit Shellis, BEP Assistant Director for Wider Learning, said: “Entrust has been an invaluable partner in setting up this. Entrust have not only provided all the technical support for the project but they have made a considerable contribution to creating a vision and direction for it, which in turn has helped to instigate a citywide conversation on the need for digital inclusion. The project is hugely indebted to the generous pro bono support Entrust provides both operationally and strategically.”