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The Smith Family survey shows digital divide a ‘huge issue’ for kids during pandemic

Disadvantaged students have missed out on learning during the pandemic, with a “digital divide” forcing some to use phones to access their classes, a new survey has revealed.

The Smith Family children’s education charity surveyed 134 of its frontline workers across the country to assess the impact of the pandemic on young people’s education.

The charity said the extended lockdown in Victoria negatively affected the literacy and numeracy skills of the primary school students it supports, and it holds similar concerns about lockdowns in NSW and the ACT.

Based on feedback from parents or schools, 77 per cent of support workers reported the students they support missed learning as a direct result of Covid and lockdowns.

Young boy playing games on a computer at home
Camera IconVictoria’s long lockdown negatively affected children’s literacy and numeracy skills, the survey found. Credit: istock

The Smith Family Pulse Survey, conducted in October, also said 75 per cent of support workers reported seeing an impact on students’ motivation to learn as a direct result of Covid and/or lockdowns.

Three in four respondents said some students were at risk of disengaging with learning as a result of the disruption, based on what families and schools told them.

Meanwhile, 45 per cent of family support workers surveyed said some students were at risk of not returning to school once they fully reopened, or in 2022.

A huge number – 87 per cent – also said “digital divide” issues were continuing to affect students and families, whether it be lack of access to devices and reliable internet, or lack of digital skills.

Tired Boy Studying In Bedroom
Camera IconA digital divide is affecting students and families, the survey found. Credit: Supplied

One Victorian family support worker reported having children trying to access classes on phones, while an ACT worker said some families told her they had stopped homeschooling altogether because of issues accessing digital devices, internet data and lack of digital skills.

Others reported students were fatigued and uncertain about the future while anxious parents were struggling with unmotivated and disengaged children, especially in states with extended lockdowns.

The Smith Family chief executive Doug Taylor said the charity was working hard to address the low levels of digital literacy, which he described as a “huge issue” for some of the families the charity supported, but more needed to be done.

“While in many instances devices and internet access have been arranged for those students who need them, a concerning ‘skills gap’ means that children in disadvantaged households continue to struggle to make the most of this technology,” he said.

Mr Taylor said extended lockdowns in Victoria, NSW and the ACT had worsened what was an already challenging and stressful time for students and families living in disadvantage before the pandemic began.

The survey also identified other concerning issues affecting families including increased financial stress, poor mental health, escalating pressures on parents and caregivers, and oversubscribed support services.

“All these issues ultimately affect our children’s ability to learn and stay engaged with their education,” Mr Taylor said.

The survey coincides with the charity’s call to Australians to support children in need this Christmas to ensure thousands of students living in disadvantage can return to learning next year.

The organisation aims to raise $4.9m nationally through its annual appeal, which aims to provide more than 11,600 children the support and resources they need to continue their education successfully.

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