Published: 12:07, 21 January 2021
| Updated: 13:19, 21 January 2021
Some children in Kent are being forced to share their parents' mobile phones with their siblings to complete schoolwork, say worried campaigners.
Hard-up families are having to home-school during the national lockdown - but thousands do not have laptops or are having to share just one between multiple youngsters.
But one mum is trying to tackle "digital poverty" by ensuring families across the Canterbury district and further afield have enough devices to help youngsters learn at home while classrooms are closed.
Charlotte Cornell's Top Up To Teach scheme has helped see more than 100 laptops given to families who need them most.
Some children have not been able to access work online since January 5 - when schools were ordered to shut by the Government.
Trained teacher Mrs Cornell, who lives in Whitstable, said: "I know first-hand how hard it is to teach more than one child at home during lockdown.
“With lots of my friends only having one device and two or three children, it became clear that one child was always missing out now that most schools are teaching through Microsoft Teams or other online resources.
“That didn't seem fair and I felt that something had to be done.
“Digital poverty is a real issue and means that some children fall further behind their peers."
Mrs Cornell says one Herne Bay family with six children had only one laptop, with five of the youngsters having to use their mum’s phone to complete work.
Another family with children in Canterbury were all using a cracked mobile phone to learn, and both parents had been made redundant - leaving them strapped for cash.
Single mum-of-two Jane Campbell, from Whitstable, is among those to receive a laptop for her six-year-old daughter, Esmai.
“My son is still going to school because he is classed as vulnerable,” the 46-year-old said.
“My daughter is still at home and I only had my mobile phone, which I can’t access Microsoft Teams on.
“So to have a laptop means Esmai can do all of her homework. It has been a blessing.
“She’s had some work brought home to her but now she can do it daily.”
Dawn Maddison is the CEO of the Dover Smart Project, which supports young carers in the district.
It has received a dozen of laptops from Mrs Cornell’s scheme, and has already identified 60 children they engage with who have not been provided with laptops by their school.
“The academic performance of a young carer will generally be two years behind a non-young carer because they can miss school or are tired,” she said.
“We find poverty comes hand-in-hand with that.
“Fast forward to March, we have this horrendous situation where children aren’t accessing stuff online because they don’t have the technology.”
Mrs Cornell is collecting used laptops and WiFi-compatible tablets from people who are happy to donate them.
Others have donated money through the website - with more than £1,500 raised so far - meaning the devices are professionally wiped and cleaned before being delivered to families who need them.
If you can donate either a device or money, visit here.
Meanwhile Asda will donate 120 laptops to schools across the county, with 10 given out by each supermarket, as part of a £2 million scheme with Dell.
Roger Burnley, chief executive and president of Asda, said: “It’s clear that digital exclusion is an issue affecting many thousands of children who attend schools in communities that we serve. These children have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown and are at risk of falling further behind their peers. We want to do all we can to help break down the digital barriers so they can continue their education remotely.”