Learning virtually on a screen during the pandemic can be a challenging experience in itself for the school children of our generation. For those, however, whose families simply can’t afford the necessary technology for online school, it becomes a cataclysmic problem and leaves a vast number of young people hugely disadvantaged. For many families, they are trying to share one device between all the children and learning online is a real and - virtual - impossibility.

At a time when the Government has repeatedly been accused of falling short in their obligations to the public, a number of high profile figures from outside the political sphere have stepped up to demand that they do better. Saracens and England rugby payer, Oghenemaro ‘Maro’ Itoje, has used his rugby platform to be at the forefront of a campaign which seeks to end this digital divide and eventually provide laptops for all school children across the country who don’t have the means to do online school. The flanker argues that all young people should have an equal opportunity. 


‘Super Maro’, as he’s often labelled commented, ‘I’ve been blessed. Now let’s lift those who have the least.’ From St George’s School, Harpenden, a state school where he was a boarder, he won a sporting scholarship to Harrow, one of the top public schools in the UK. There every pupil had access to a computer and it is his fervent belief that this should be the case for all children across the country.

Last year, it was estimated that 1.78 million children in the UK did not have access to devices for learning at home. Of course, this has a direct impact on their attainment impact and their overall schooling, as well as future opportunities, something that Itoje most definitely acknowledges. Recent statistics reveal that children receiving free school meals, on average, did one hour of schooling a day during the last lockdown. In addition, data shows that children in the higher income families with access to technology spend nearly six hours a day on educational activities. This growing digital divide has long term implications and the need, as Itoje has expressed, is for immediate action.


Richmond Borough has stepped up and is helping to provide many laptops for children in desperate need. In backing Itoje’s initiative, Richmond Rugby Club has offered a second hand tech drop-off point at the club every Saturday from 11am-1pm for anyone who wishes to donate their tablets. These are then professionally wiped and reloaded with updated software before being donated to local schools for distribution to children throughout the community. The response has been very positive, with many laptops so far donated from individuals and local companies. However, hundreds more are still needed.


One local teacher, Mrs Clarke, commented, ‘teaching during the pandemic has been the hardest work I have ever done but the fact that many of the children in my class could not access any technology has been heartbreaking. I know I speak on the behalf of all teachers and parents in saying that this initiative has come at just the right time and is absolutely vital and will change young people’s lives.’