24 July 2017

UKFast education team's Aaron delivering a workshop on one of the many visits from local schools.

Aaron delivering a workshop for pupils at Priestnall School on a visit to UKFast’s training labs.

Is technology feeding social exclusion in our country’s most deprived areas?

This morning I read a piece on the Guardian about the digital divide between technology and young people in Salford. I couldn’t agree more that something needs to be done to level the playing field.

We’re seeing a lack of digital access and skills across the whole of the country, specifically in Greater Manchester near to our HQ and it’s something that we’re working hard to combat.

“Technology companies have responded to the need for digital up-skilling with a range of initiatives, but this only papers over the cracks.” I was disappointed to read this in the article.

Technology companies are making a real, hands-on difference to young people.

What’s the best way to drive social change? It’s certainly not to take a pop at the people who are trying to make a difference already. Criticism like this is only adding more negativity onto an issue that needs a mindset change already.

Whilst there are undoubtedly schemes that are more for lip service than real grass-roots impact, it’s a shame that such a broad brush has been used to describe all tech company schemes. In fact, there are many that are making a real difference.

At UKFast we work with 60,000 young people across Greater Manchester to bring hands-on tech education to them. We don’t charge a penny for it.

We’re putting computers in schools. We don’t charge a penny for it.

We run Code Clubs, workshops, work experience, masterclasses across 60 schools, colleges and universities in the region. We don’t charge a penny for it.

We are training teachers and putting them through tech qualifications. We don’t charge a penny for it.

We built a Raspberry Pi Internet Café for both the school and community to use at Broadoak School, Partington. We didn’t charge a penny for it.

Lawrence Jones MBE speaking to the pupils of St Bede's College Prep School on one of their school visits to UKFast.

Speaking to the pupils of St Bede’s College Prep School on one of their school visits to UKFast.

On top of this, we’re in the process of creating a new high school centred around digital skills in one of Greater Manchester’s most challenging wards, Moss Side. Of course, we’re not charging a penny for it.

It’s a shame that the writer has applied such a broad brush used to dismiss the work that technology companies are doing to push a new campaign. Instead, we need to collaborate to tackle this issue together.

We need to collaborate to tackle this issue together.

Imagine if the region’s tech companies banded together to help bring digital access and skills to everyone in Greater Manchester. We saw it on a much smaller scale a year or so ago when Bright Futures failed. The closure left around 400 apprentices halfway through their apprenticeships with no job or access to continue their courses.

To help them we held a recruitment event to connect as many of them with Manchester’s businesses as we could. The result was phenomenal. We placed a few hundred of them in new roles by coming together with the business community. And it was one of the rare occasions where you saw myself on stage with fellow cloud firm boss Scott Fletcher.

This is just a small example of the difference that companies make when they work together. Whilst there is no quick fix solution to solve social exclusion and tech, it’s important that we’re aware of it. It’s no longer about having the trendy trainers to fit in at school; without access to these devices, kids can’t communicate with their peers.

As part of our work with schools, UKFast’s education team visited a school in a challenged ward in London. Each child has a subsidised iPad and for many households this is the whole family’s only access to the internet. That’s a real challenge when the majority of the school’s communications are sent via email.

When it comes to changing young people’s lives, it’s essential that we collaborate and work together.

What do you think can be done to tackle the issue?

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