West End mum ‘terrified’ kids would fall behind with learning without laptops

A Denton Burn mum has said she was “terrified” at the thought of her children falling behind in their education for not having devices to learn at home.

When the third lockdown was announced, mum-of-two Samantha Makepeace only had a faulty laptop meaning she was homeschooling both her boys – eight-year-old Alfie and seven-year-old Thomas – who both attend Bridgewater Primary School in Newcastle’s West End.

The 29-year-old said she began panicking at the thought of needing to buy two iPads for her children so they could log onto the virtual classroom.

But with no means to get online and without sufficient funds to buy new devices, the single mum relied on the school sending out paper packs for them to work through.

Samantha said: “It has been very difficult to adapt. I was terrified that they would be falling behind, especially Thomas who can struggle at times with his learning. He has made a lot of progress at school and I was worried he would lose it all.

“I was using a phone for a while and it was almost impossible for the kids to watch the lesson and do work on it.

“I managed to eventually get my laptop fixed but they were having to take turns and it wasn’t set up with the apps needed for them to do their work.

Why is connectivity an issue?

It’s easy to think everyone has access to superfast broadband.

This isn’t the case. Many households rely on one mobile phone internet bundle, with everything else on Sim-only deals.

This keeps costs down. Data isn’t always unlimited.

With the rise in home-schooling, video calling, which is data intensive, has become the norm.

As well as facing the issue of not having laptops, many households might receive kit from schools, the government, or charities – but if there’s only one device in the house which provides the actual internet connectivity then suddenly three children trying to home-school becomes a problem.

Homes are not fibre-connected offices able to support hundreds of people working at once.

This is why we need Cash For Connectivity to help ensure these dongles are delivered to ensure those who need to keep home-schooling into February, or beyond, can do so.

Staying home means staying safe and it should also mean staying connected.

“We were all just expected to have the laptops and internet. But we didn’t sign up for homeschooling and it isn’t fair on our children to miss out.

“Many parents, like me, had no idea what they were doing initially. We’ve had to learn along the way.

“I’m now not only a mam – I’m a teacher, support worker all in one and it is very stressful.”

Samantha has now been able to access two iPads from Bridgewater Primary School via the Government so Alfie and Thomas can now access online learning with their teachers and friends.

She added that they have made a huge difference to her family’s life during lockdown.

Alfie and Thomas can now access remote learning at home
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

“The kids can now see their friends so they’re not as isolated,” Samantha said.

“The boys could not do half the things they do now with the iPads. They have saved me a fortune.

“When the lockdown came in I was panicking about how I was going to afford two tablets. I’m a single parent and I don’t have money like that to spend.

“Now they don’t really need me. They have the technology and the teacher is on the call with them so it is so much easier for them and for me.

“The iPads really have been vital to us.”

Fellow Bridgewater Primary School parent Leighanne Holmes, 31, has also spoken of the “stressful” period teaching her children during the lockdown.

The mum-of-four only had one device to share among her children David, 12, Amy, 10, Jessica, seven, and Sophie, six.

She told ChronicleLive: “I was worried that when they went back to school that they wouldn’t be able to do what the others could.

“Some days we were logging on at 9am and not finishing until around 6pm because the kids were needing to take turns with the laptop. Now all my children have a device thanks to their schools so it has made it so much easier.”

With around 55,000 families across the North East not having access to a laptop, tablet or computer, there are widespread concerns that not all children are receiving a fair right to an education.

That is why ChronicleLive, alongside Northumbrian Water, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and Sunderland-based IT firms Rebuyer and Code, has launched the Laptops for Kids campaign – aiming to address the digital divide.

The Laptop for Kids campaigns aims to get disadvantaged children access to online learning
The Laptop for Kids campaigns aims to get disadvantaged children access to online learning
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

The campaign is calling on businesses and individuals to donate any unwanted digital devices which will be wiped and refurbished, if required, before being distributed to those most in need.

More than 1,500 devices have already been donated to the cause, which has been backed by Sunderland AFC, MPs Chi Onwurah, Julie Elliott and Grahame Morris, the National Education Union and local businesses.

Samantha, who was training to be a personal trainer when the coronavirus pandemic hit, said: “I think the campaign is fantastic. Anything that is going to help parents and children with no access to laptops and internet.

“The Laptops for Kids campaign is going to support many children with the technology that is important for their education.”

Anybody who wants to support the Laptops for Kids campaign should visit https://www.ltfk.co.uk/northeast where businesses can pledge to donate suitable technology, individuals can express interest in donating items and headteachers can request assistance.

The Co-op stores where devices can be dropped off:

  • Choppington, Northumberland, NE62 5DA. Open 7 days, 7am – 10pm.
  • Great North Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE13 6LN. Open Monday – Saturday 6am – 10pm and Sunday 10am – 10pm.
  • Coxhoe – Park Road, County Durham, DH6 4HA. Open 7 days, 7am – 10pm.
  • Newton Hall, County Durham, DH1 5LT. Open Monday – Saturday 7am – 10pm, and Sunday 10am – 4pm.
  • Quebec Street, County Durham, DH7 9UU. Open 7 days, 6am – 10pm.
  • Ushaw Moor, County Durham, DH7 7LQ. Open 7 days, 6am – 10pm.
  • Prudhoe, Northumberland, NE42 5HF. Open Monday – Saturday 8am – 10pm, and Sunday 10am – 4pm.
  • Ryton – Parsons Drive, Tyne and Wear, NE40 3RA. Open Monday – Saturday 7am – 10pm, and Sunday 10am – 4pm.
  • Whickham – Oakfield Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE16 5BY. Open Monday – Saturday 7am – 10pm, and Sunday 10am – 4pm.
  • Low Fell – 459 Durham Road, Low Fell, Gateshead, NE9 5EX. Open 7 days, 7am – 10pm.
  • Haltwhistle – Main Street, Haltwhistle, Northumberland, NE49 9AH. Open 7 days, 7am – 10pm.
  • Corbridge – 4- 6 Hill Street, Corbridge, Northumberland, NE45 5AA. Open 7 days, 7am – 10pm.
  • Shiney Row – 1 -3 Grangewood Court, Shiney Row, Houghton le Spring, Tyne and Wear, DH4 4RS. Open 7 days, 7am – 11pm.
  • Sunderland – Northmoor Road, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, SR3 1TJ. Open 7 days, 6am – 11pm.

Opening hours for the Co-op stores may be subject to change so we would advise checking through the Co-op store finder here before you set off.

Chronicle Live – Sunderland