By Steve Malone
NEWRY, Mourne and Down District Council have set up a working group and has called for a taskforce be set-up to tackle digital poverty.
Chief Executive of the Council Marie Ward signed off in a letter to Education Minister Michelle McIlveen and the NI Executive Office asking for assistance in tackling the issue.
The letter said: “This council acknowledges that blended learning is likely to be with us for some time to come due to the graduated easing of restrictions relating to the pandemic. Council recognises that digital poverty needs to be urgently addressed across our district and throughout the North in order to tackle growing inequalities and education with children and many families unable to access online learning due to the lack of computers in the home and lack of access to adequate broadband.
“Council agrees to set up a working group to work with local schools’ community groups youth organisations and sports clubs to devise a community based short-term initiative to assist families to gain access to online learning and adequate broadband.
“Council calls for a digital poverty task force to be set up within the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that no child loses out in their education due to lack of a computer or broadband and requests that the council chief executive writes to the education minister executive office outlining the councils call for our digital poverty task force to be established.”
The Council said that they already address poverty issues through the Full Fibre Northern Ireland and Stratum Projects.
Also, regional colleges are working cooperatively across Northern Ireland to apply for funding through the UK Community Renewal fund. This project aims to increase digital literacy and self-efficacy. Southern Eastern Regional College have identified that 21 percent of their full-time students do not have access to a desktop PC while six percent of students do not have sufficient access to the internet.
And the community planning team is currently contacting community planning partners to ascertain any other interventions being undertaken to address digital poverty across the District. The information gathered will inform the community planning working group.
Recommendations at the meeting included setting up a Digital Poverty Working Group, which they said should involve Council Officers from Community Planning, Community Development Economic/Rural development. It is necessary to include representatives from the Education
Authority and Regional Colleges as well as the community voluntary sector and sports club representatives as nominated by the Sports Association Newry, Down and South Armagh.
The aims of working group will utilise the knowledge and experience of members to better understand the nature of digital poverty across the District and identify where further initiatives are required.
They want to understand any current activity addressing digital poverty and identify gaps in provision as well as opportunities for better coordination and collaboration.
They plan to seek funding opportunities to support community based short-term initiatives to address the identified needs full and they would like to design, implement, monitor and report on initiatives assisting families in gaining access to online learning, adequate broadband, or appropriate computer equipment.