A group of children, teachers and experts will come together this week to discuss how Andover and the wider county can do better at ensuring everyone is able to access education through technology.

The round table discussion Digital Inclusion, Education and Home Schooling: Leaving No-One Behind, will take a look at how the differences between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has changed during the pandemic, and what can be done to address the gap.

Judith Davey-Cole, who is organising the free event, said that the pandemic has “highlighted an issue that was there previously” and the discussion would provide a “holistic discussion” of what steps can be taken.

Throughout the pandemic, many students across the country were taught over virtual platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, for some, access to these platforms was not a given, with 18 per cent impacted by lack of access to computers, while 71 per cent lacked access to quiet study spaces.

“We might all have all been in the same storm of Covid but we all certainly haven’t been in the same boat,” said Judith. “Those that were previously disadvantaged have seen it become much worse.”

Efforts such as Andover man Ryan Rawlinson raising funds to buy tablets for schools, as well as national schemes to provide data for disadvantaged families, have done something to help during the pandemic, but the talk aims to explore what should follow.

“We came up with the idea of this round table to explore this very locally in Hampshire to see what it means for kids and families,” said Judith. “We know that during the first lockdown, the attainment gap between young people from less advantaged backgrounds and their peers widened.

“Digital poverty and digital inclusion is a real issue. Not everyone has the equipment they need. Various charities are trying to get tablets to kids, and that’s a really good thing, but that’s only part of the issue.

“It’s also about how people afford the data, and having rooms that are quiet and calm enough for people to focus on their learning in.”

In some countries, steps have been taken to make access to the internet and digital technologies a human right. In France, access to the internet was declared “an essential tool for the liberty of communication and expression” by senior lawmakers, while Greece has a section of its constitution that enshrines the right to access the “Information Society”.

“We want to look at the issues from an Andover lens, a Hampshire lens,” said Judith, “and we do have a national speaker as well.

“We’re trying to pull together a holistic view on it so we can come at it from a systemic view and not just put up people from one sector.”

Speakers include Harrow Way Community School headteacher Michael Serridge; North West Hampshire MYP Dmitrijs Meiksans; the economic issues policy officer for the Joint Public Issues Team, Paul Morrison and the chair of governors at Abbotts Ann Church of England Primary School, Nick Everett, as well as students of The Hurst.

The impacts also extend beyond education itself, and into other areas such as social care, with technology increasingly being used in care homes.

“The pressures on health and social care meant is was a meltdown before the pandemic,” said Judith, “so we need to find ways of connecting people socially, as it’s important in terms of wellbeing.

“There’s lots of possibilities, and it’s shining a light on important issues and looking at good practice and how to take that forward.”

She hopes to explore other topics related to inclusion in future events going forward.

To get a free ticket for the event, and learn more, visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/digital-inclusion-education-and-home-schooling-leaving-no-one-behind-tickets-144760790421