How can we ensure that no school-age child in Oxfordshire falls further behind due to lack of digital resources? Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF) commissioned Oxford University’s Student Consultancy to measure the size of the digital exclusion problem, and consider solutions.
With schools closed due to COVID-19, home schooling supported by online lessons became the key method of continuing children’s education. However, not all children live in households where there is sufficient equipment, bandwidth, and skills – effectively excluding them from education during this time. This has the effect of widening further the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other children.
To understand this issue locally, OCF has worked with a group of students to gather data and assess the potential role of the University in tackling it. The Student Consultancy is a unique programme run by the Careers Service at Oxford University, offering students the opportunity to work on a real business challenge and prove their consulting and teamwork skills. At this time of COVID-19 disruption, The Oxford Strategy Challenge (TOSCA) is running, giving students some intensive work, with five days to tackle the problem set.
Two teams from the Student Consultancy were tasked with this OCF challenge and recently presented their findings (in an online meeting!). One group’s report is now available to read in full in the insights library of our Knowledge Hub.
Key insights from one of the reports included an estimate of the number of school students without access to a device – over 9,300 in Oxfordshire; the potential donation pipeline – 39% of Oxford University students surveyed have an unused device; and the ease of the refurbishment process. This led to recommendations around a local network of collaboration to create scale and long-term support.
Simon Barnard from OCF, who commissioned the research, said: “We were really impressed by the quantity and quality of work that both teams from the Student Consultancy produced in such a short period of time. We will certainly be using some of their findings and recommendations to help us in getting Oxfordshire Online.”
OCF has already started to plan a project to ensure a phased and inclusive approach to supporting all of Oxfordshire. This will ensure access to suitable equipment and connectivity, as well the right skills and confidence to use it. Lessons learned throughout lockdown highlighted the importance of being able to connect virtually with your community when face-to-face support is not an option.