By Gary McKeown, Glasgow Clyde College ICT Service Delivery Co-ordinator

IF you need the number for a restaurant, have to fill out a form online, or want to search for job opportunities, it’s second nature for most of us to grab our smartphone, laptop or tablet and check online.

However, a surprisingly high number of people in Scotland are not able to do so. According to Citizens Advice Bureau, only 54 per cent of clients have an internet connection at home. The survey also found that 64 per cent of benefit claimants admitted they needed help to apply for their benefits online. Having key public services online without an alternative option, such as paper forms or a telephone service, excludes those who have no access to the internet.

The digital divide is not a new concern, but as we become more and more reliant on computers and the internet in our daily lives, it’s important we look to help bridge the gap wherever possible, especially for our young people in education.

Every year, members of Glasgow Clyde College’s ICT team receive calls from staff looking for old laptops or computers to lend to students so they can do their classwork, as they don’t have access to one at home. It’s a similar story with community groups, charitable organisations and nurseries looking for equipment that can support their projects. The demand and need is there, and so we came up with a solution to the problem.

Our initiative, Gift-tech, was launched earlier this year 2019. It is a completely voluntary project in which a small group of volunteers work outwith regular hours to recycle the college’s ICT equipment by cleaning, wiping and refurbishing PCs and laptops, restoring them to a workable state and gifting them to students and local community groups. We are one of the first further education establishments in Scotland to be granted Microsoft Refurbisher Program status, which allows us to do be sure that our equipment is of a high quality before we pass it to those who benefit from the initiative.

Gift-tech offers a practical solution to recycling, as well as an opportunity to support identified learners who are facing hardship, on low incomes or benefits, and may therefore be at risk of further social exclusion or dropping out of their learning journey due to lack of equipment to complete coursework or similar. Our team works with local organisations to identify how the project can best support digital inclusion in the community. We hope to refurbish at least 300 devices by the end of the first year of the project, and have them ready for distribution.

In the first eight weeks of our project, we helped 19 students in hardship, providing the resources to help them to remain in college and continue with their studies. One of the first students Gift-tech helped has now completed her course and has been offered a place at Aberdeen University. Without our support she would have left education through no fault of her own, purely due to the fact she was in severe hardship and IT equipment wasn’t an option for her.

We are already working with several community groups, and are delighted to be helping our students and communities. However, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation shows that Glasgow remains the most deprived city and local authority area in Scotland with, almost 47 per cent of its residents living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland.

While Gift-tech goes some way to help those in need, we must look to bridge the digital gap so those many are not left behind.