THE BLOG

We Need to Close the Gap That Is Swallowing Up 700,000 Kids

22/01/2014 12:01 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Some 700,000 children in Britain are being held back in school through no fault of their own and irrespective of their ability. This isn't just wrong, it's scandalous. And we can all do something about it.

You know what makes me angry? When stuff is unfair. Okay, that makes everyone angry. But what about when stuff is unfair and it's children who suffer the most? Yup. What about when the family into which you happened to be born dictates whether you have any chance of keeping up at school, never mind excelling, regardless of how bright or ambitious you are? Yep, and then add to that, what about if the solution to an injust disparity is really pretty cheap and really pretty simple.

To take it back a few steps, I'm talking about internet access. I'm talking about the basic internet access that children in the UK need to be able to stay on top of their school work. Thousands of them - SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND OF THEM - cannot get online at home. Did you realise that it is now entirely commonplace for children to submit their maths homework online? Even at primary age in some schools? That's 700,000 children, many of them already in vulnerable and difficult economic situations, automatically at a disadvantage.

Research commissioned by the BBC and SAM Learning found a correlation between improved results and the ability to access internet-based resources for enhanced periods of time (in other words, short bursts at a public library or after-school club doesn't cut it).

Using the internet in education is ace. Google Earth scorches an old spinning globe or paper map to ash. Accessing every creative comments video, image or work of art in seconds is mind-blowing. Connecting with other people in different continents isn't just inspiring, it's crucial to helping children to become global citizens. But a few quid a month means that children in the poorest families in this country lose out.

Before they even get started in the race, they have their shoelaces tied together.

And it's not just academic learning. Social interaction is online as much as off. Whether we like it or not, this is a taste of what's to come by the time today's kids are carving out careers. Missing out on social interaction, social plans and online etiquette development is another kick in the teeth for those kids who are missing out on much more besides.

There is a powerful link between poverty and academic performance. According to stats from the DfE, only 37% of children eligible for Free School Meals got an A*-C grade in English & Maths in 2012, compared to 63% of all the other children; that's a sour-tasting 26% point gap.

This isn't a judgement on poor families, not in the slightest. I know parents want the best opportunities for their children whatever their household income, c'mon, of course they do. But if it's a choice between food and internet connection, any right-minded person would choose food. It's a choice that shouldn't have to be made. It is within the power of schools, and the rest of us too, to close the digital divide and make sure there is an even playing field for all our kids.

And that is why Quibly has joined forces with charity e-Learning Foundation to launch Mind the Gap, a national programme, aimed at schools, to get every child online at home. Schools who believe that this is already the case are invited to be recognised as a Digitally Inclusive school.

To find out how we want to help schools to get their pupils online, visit mindthegap.org.uk. You can also pledge support, donate, badger your MP or just find out more.