$305,000 donation for computers in schools will be transformative

$305,000 donation for computers in schools will be transformative

“Kids who can’t afford computers or don’t have access to them are at a real disadvantage. It’s a major concern if they aren’t computer literate when they leave school.”

Hundreds of Vancouver students whose lack of exposure to technology is leading to digital illiteracy are being helped by a $305,000 donation from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program.

Some 206 laptops and 135 iPads are being distributed this month to seven Vancouver inner-city elementary schools and three alternative secondary programs whose students have the most difficulty accessing technology.

The donation is also covering the cost of charging carts, keyboards and other tech equipment needed by the students.

The impetus for placing technology into inner-city schools — which are unable to provide ready access to it — came from a Vancouver philanthropist concerned that students whose families can’t afford to buy them PCs or tablets — or have WiFi at home — would find it difficult to cope in a world which requires them to be technologically fluent.

The philanthropist, who wishes to remain anonymous, approached the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board — which administers the Adopt-A-School program — and offered to implement a program that would help those students.

“Kids who can’t afford computers or don’t have access to them are at a real disadvantage. It’s a major concern if they aren’t computer literate when they leave school. That’s why I want to help,” said the donor. “For me, it’s an investment in their future.”

The bulk of the $305,000 came from the philanthropist, who also sought contributions from his friends.

When it comes to providing technology, school districts don’t have the financial resources to supply students with the individual computer devices they need to take full advantage of online learning.

That is not a problem for students whose parents can afford to buy them devices or where their school’s Parents Advisory Council is able to raise money to put technology into classrooms.

But parents who have low-income jobs or are on social assistance are unable to do any of this. Their children are at a grave disadvantage as education has moved from pen strokes to keystrokes.

The inequity can be seen with an affluent Vancouver school having no shortage of technology, including 3-D printers, while an inner-city school struggles with a few outdated computers — at a ratio of one device per 14 children.

Jason Eng, principal of Lord Strathcona Elementary in the Downtown Eastside, said the 40 laptop computers his school is receiving will be transformative.

“It will allow us to activate what we had been planning to do in the next two or three years. Now, we get what we need all in one go.

“It will have a huge and immediate impact,” said Eng, who was concerned that the ratio of students to computers was so high that students were often unable to have meaningful access to them.

Eng said younger students thrive using tablets, but when they are approaching Grade Seven, students need to transition to laptops.

“Some of our kids have no idea how to log-on — half of them didn’t know how to turn on the computer,” said Eng. “We need to have some equity of access so we can help them because the day of the computer lab in schools is over. Computer learning isn’t a subject anymore, it’s a skill you need to use across all subjects.”

The Vancouver Homework Club at Britannia Secondary on the city’s east side is receiving 30 MacBook Airs worth close to $40,000, which will also be available to students in school during the day.

Currently, the homework club has six computers and there are always lineups, with students waiting their turn as some nights there are 50 to 60 students coming in to complete assignments, says teacher Natalie Wai.

Those 30 new computers will dramatically cut the wait time, if not eliminate it, said Wai, who is also one of the club’s education facilitators.

“Many of our students live in low-cost housing and they don’t have their own technology. They might have a phone. But they need a space to study and have access to WiFi because they don’t have it at home,” said Wai.

“This donation will help us a lot, and we truly appreciate it.”

Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and The Province, said the donation would have a profound effect on how students learn.

“We have moved away from the textbook era, but unfortunately students whose families can’t afford iPads or laptops are being left behind. Thanks to this donor, hundreds of children will now have access to the latest technology,” said Munro, who is also chair of the board of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund.

“I can’t thank him and his friends enough for their enormous generosity.”

By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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