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Digital Skills Critical to Education Gap

When the Covid pandemic hit, the disruption caused by online learning was devastating for many families experiencing disadvantage. Vanessa – a grandmother and carer of four children on The Smith Family’s Learning for Life educational support program – could not afford an iPad or laptop for her grandkids to work on, let alone internet access.

“When we had the total lockdown for COVID-19 and the children were doing their homework from home, I was just about going around the bend … because I only had a little mobile phone.

“That’s the only device that I had to try and access educational programs for the children. Sometimes I was in tears because the kids wanted to [but were unable to] go on to a different [educational] program,” she says.

When The Smith Family became aware of the family’s challenges, it supplied Vanessa with a laptop, free internet and tech support.

It’s a service at the core of the charity’s Digital Access program,

Reduced access to technology and resources leaves many Australian families who are experiencing disadvantage on the wrong side of a growing digital divide.

Essential for pursuing socio-economic equality, bridging the digital inclusion gap for Australians with lower levels of education, employment, and income is one of The Smith Family’s key goals over the next five years. By 2027, it aims to ensure that all students on its Learning for Life sponsorship program are digitally connected.

Which is why it has entered into a new partnership with Quadrent, an asset leasing specialist, to support even more children and young people with the digital resources they need to properly engage in their education.

“Access to the digital world is now a basic necessity – just like water, food, heat and shelter,” says Martyn Masterson, Chief Executive Officer of Quadrent.

“By partnering with The Smith Family and their already established network, we have a chance to achieve an immediate impact on this huge problem by providing digital access that is essential for all students to take full advantage of their education in Australia.

“We chose [to partner with] The Smith Family because we felt our values mirrored theirs. Specifically, their belief that education is one of the world’s most powerful change agents, and their focus on helping young Australians to overcome educational inequality caused by poverty.”

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index found, “digital inclusion is not just about computers, the internet or even technology. It is about using technology as a channel to improve skills, to enhance quality of life, to drive education and to promote economic well being across all elements of society. Digital inclusion is really about social inclusion.”

Which is where The Smith Family’s agreement with Quadrent comes in. The Quadrent Green Lease program enables large corporate and government organisations to lease their technology purchases from Quadrent. At the end of the lease term Quadrent will donate a portion of the best quality laptops to The Smith Family for re-distribution to families it supports. Remaining devices are responsibly recycled or repurposed.


“Technology has radically transformed education, creating a fantastic array of learning options for those with access to it. Whether teachers are looking to boost collaboration between students or they’re thinking of new ways to make lessons more engaging and interactive, there are many ways that technology can be used to deliver the best learning outcomes,” explains Mr Masterson.

“The sad reality, however, is that there is a vast digital divide for many who don’t yet have access to technology and that excludes them from being able to participate.

“Education is at the core of our social focus because it is proven to engender the greatest levels of personal empowerment, growth, and inclusion. Our hope is that a positive difference made in one life today compounds in its effect on all generations that follow them.”

Partnerships like the one with Quadrent are essential to help The Smith Family reach its ambitious goal of reaching 100,000 students on Learning for Life scholarships by 2027, and ensuring they are all digitally included.

Vanessa has seen first-hand the impact that digital support can have.

“Because [digital education] starts from high school, right down to the earlier years in primary school, it was really hard to try and say, ‘How are we going to do this on this phone?’”, says Vanessa.

For her family, The Smith Family’s intervention was transformative.

“It made my life and especially the children’s lives, their learning, so much happier in the whole way they looked at their home schooling. It was just absolutely phenomenal, all the help and support that I had during that lockdown. We are still continuing to use that laptop to this day,” she says.

This article was written by Ria Pandey, and originally appeared in The Australian.