Data from the charities in the UK imply that the impact of not being able to access the internet has catastrophic consequences for the millions of people living in low-income households, with children being the most at risk. The digital divide expressed itself during the pandemic and pushed the most vulnerable groups even further to the margins of society.
Difficulties with digital exclusion didn’t arise overnight, as the issue is known to many non-profit organizations for a long time. People who don’t have enough finances to access fixed internet services find it harder to access health and education services and benefits system. Digitalization has become a part of our daily lives, while many remain excluded.
Children and teenagers who are involved in the educational process and are therefore unable to follow the learning requirements are particularly vulnerable, especially now in the pandemic crisis, when distance learning is taking place. This kind of digital isolation reflects the inability to establish social networks, which is why teenagers and children face loneliness and exclusion from their peers.
Parents struggle to provide children with digital access
Around two million people in the UK don’t have internet access, while 29 million people are online only when they purchase a card with mobile data. When they spend it, they have to buy more data, while the prices are going up and take a large proportion of expenses in low-income households that cannot afford expensive telecommunication packages (wi-fi at home) on fixed-term contracts.
Humanitarian organizations tell stories that many parents have difficulty providing their children with access to the internet, often hesitating whether to buy food or a mobile data card. The shortage mainly affects children and teenagers in households where both parents earn between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds a year. Therefore, there is a direct link between poverty and digital exclusion.
Digital exclusion on children’s learning and education
A digital divide, which expanded even more during the pandemic, has many consequences for the youth, especially in lost educational opportunities. Disadvantaged children have difficulty following the outlined learning process, as they are unable to learn from home and prepare for the subject matter as they did in the classroom before the pandemic.
They have difficulty engaging in online lectures where teachers explain the subject matter. They also cannot use interactive learning platforms, do seminar and homework assignments, and research projects. The latter was crucial even before the pandemic, while the education process now has almost entirely moved online.
Educational institutions are trying to apply some actions into the system to help reduce digital exclusion between students who have access to the internet and those who don’t or can’t be online when they need to. Therefore, they call parents to inform them of, for example, test dates, seminar assignment dates, etc.
Digital exclusion affects missed opportunities offered by the education system. Grades of digitally excluded elementary, high school, and college students are lower than classmates who can get online whenever they want. Disadvantaged children need to work harder and put more effort into good grades, while the question is whether they also receive parental support.
Digital divide and other effects on the youth
The digital divide affects people in different ways. Members of a household stay in their homes and have less contact with the outside world. The latter is also linked to poverty. Children and teenagers feel cut off from their peers, unable to build social networks and make new friendships.
On the other hand, digital isolation also affects other spheres in children’s lives, not just education and learning. Parents cannot provide their children with optimal access to health services, and many of them ask friends or acquaintances if they can submit online forms, find online information about their doctor’s contact number, food bank locations, etc.
Inadequate internet literacy also affects employment opportunities, as all job applications have to be sent via e-mail. Civil service, banks, and various institutions are implementing digitalized solutions as much as possible, so the poorest in the UK don’t have access to many services and information.
Is there a solution?
Some non-profit organizations recognized a great need to help low-income households during the pandemic, which only increased the poverty rate. It also showed how many children do not have digital access and cannot be actively involved in distance learning. To help parents pay for living expenses, the government has put forward a proposal to increase child benefits. However, in the long run, this is not the solution.
During the pandemic, a variety of charities and volunteers have supplied children and teenagers with computers, while a new campaign is on the rise, asking companies to donate electronic devices, mobile data cards, and mobile hotspots. Nevertheless, it is clear that a lot more needs to be done in this field.