This participatory research project explores a two year initiative that provides all year 10 students with a laptop and Internet connection if they require one at home in three secondary schools.

Despite the seemingly impervious rhetoric about digitally savvy youth, numerous academic studies have demonstrated that young people vary considerably in their ability to access and use the Internet effectively to support their education, pursue personal interests, socialise with their peers, obtain support, and plan their future.

Around 5-10% of 9-16 year olds in England do not have appropriate means of accessing the Internet at home and around 15% are not confident in their skills to use the Internet. Young people that fall into this group need additional support to ensure they can make the most of the Internet – yet they rarely receive it. School and library access to the Internet is highly filtered and controlled, making any kind of meaningful online engagement a challenge. Many teachers assume all young people do have home access and have the necessary skills to go online, thus set homework that requires Internet access.

As a result this group experience ever-greater forms of educational and social disadvantage as more of their world moves online. This disadvantage increases as their digital skills fall further and further behind those of their peers, particularly once they leave school and move into the workforce. This is not an issue of time – where in a few years all young people will simply “catch up” with the majority. To reduce digital inequality intervention is required.

This participatory research project explores a two year initiative that provides all year 10 students with a laptop and Internet connection if they require one at home in three secondary schools. The research team works with the teachers, young people and families involved in the project (via workshops, events, home visits and tutorials) to support the development of digital experiences and skills. Using a range of qualitative and quantitative data over the course of the project we examine if and how the initiative influences:

  • Students’ sense of agency, perceptions of self, ambitions, digital skills, academic achievements and behaviour in school
  • Family members’ engagement with the Internet

Researching this initiative will contribute to our theoretical understanding of digital inequality and have a clear social and educational impact on the participants.

Support

This research is supported by Google.