David Hall, Ambassador for Education & Employment
In his first blog as Heart of Bucks’ Education & Employment Ambassador, David Hall, Managing Director and Founder of Cloudy Group and Chairman of the Cloudy Foundation looks at digital poverty and the current situation facing students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cloudy Group Ltd, based in North Buckinghamshire, provides IT support technology solutions to the council, legal and charity sectors and has achieved a Corporate Social Responsibility accreditation.
Over the last 12 months, society has gone through enormous change and whilst the current government vaccine roll out is ensuring there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we are still facing a tough and extended period of disruption.
Like so many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted inequalities and accelerated pre-existing trends. It is changing the fabric of our communities and workplaces and affecting the most vulnerable in society. Young and old are now facing a big crisis of confidence as they try to adapt to a different sense of normal and keep pace with new initiatives.
In my role as the Education & Employment Ambassador for the Heart of Bucks and also the Chairman of the Cloudy Foundation, I want to shine a light on digital poverty.
We live in one of the most affluent regions in the country. Buckinghamshire functions as a commuter belt for London and is the base of many known and reputable companies. And yet, we have many pockets of poverty and whilst the vast majority of our young people and families are supported well, it is the less fortunate that require our focus.
Throughout the pandemic we have relied on technology to ensure businesses can continue to trade, families communicate and students learn. With lockdown it has meant more services being exclusively available online exacerbating the problems faced by large swathes of the population – the digitally excluded.
School classes have gone online but not every pupil has a computer nor every home access to the internet. Job applications and Universal Credit claims have to be submitted online, but alas, too many people have no means of access. The causes of digital poverty go wider than that. Many people lack the skills or ability required to utilise online information. Lockdown is making any potential help more distant.
Thankfully it isn’t all doom and gloom and despite finding ourselves in this situation, we have learned many things from the last twelve months. There are some amazing initiatives underway from companies, charities and individuals, as well as the government.
What help is available
The Department for Education is currently running ‘Get Help with Technology’ programmes which are designed to encourage mobile firms to offer more data allowance to pupils. This is to ensure they have the ability to access online education during the pandemic lockdown.
EE, Vodafone, Three, Sky Mobile, Smarty, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile support the scheme and families can apply for the extra data through schools, trusts and local authorities and this will apply until the end of July 2021. For more information on how to apply, click here.
The Cloudy Foundation has also launched a number of programmes to help students in Buckinghamshire and the wider area. Our Donate 2 Eduate service is working with local academies and charities to distribute laptops to students and families who need them the most. To find out how to get involved please click here. We are also running virtual schools programmes, working with secondary schools in North Buckinghamshire to give young people creative licence to discover, develop and celebrate new technical and interpersonal skills, build relationships with educational mentors, and open up exciting new employment opportunities. More information on these can be found on the Cloudy Foundation website.
Career development during COVID-19
Young people are having to come to terms with a different kind of reality. The transition from education to the work place is daunting at best of times. I remember mine vividly. But students preparing to enter the world of work are facing a different set of circumstances: a jobs market diminished and in turmoil, new methods of working, and a constant disruption to work, education and living practices.
Buckinghamshire and the wider UK has had an excellent young people careers programme for many years. In my role as a Careers Advisor to students for the Aylesbury Vale Academy, I have run many engagement initiatives in schools and colleges in and around Buckinghamshire. It has allowed me to see how, before the COVID-19 pandemic, our leading school programmes were making a real and positive impact on students.
We need now to continue this standard of work and improve opportunity and employability for our young people, especially those who show strong entrepreneurial potential but perhaps do not have a traditional academic background or support available to them. We should also be providing a level of support to those students from less affluent families, ensuring they have access to computer equipment and the internet.
Should anyone wish to get in touch to discuss any of the above, then please do visit my LinkedIn page and send me a message.