Laptops for low-income families: Addressing digital inequity

June 19, 2020

As the COVID-19 situation escalated in Singapore, additional measures were introduced, including home-based learning (HBL) for all schools and working from home for all workplaces except for essential services. These circumstances threw a light on the difficulties that some families who may not have any laptops at home or only one laptop to share between multiple children, are facing. These children are at risk of missing online lessons.

NUS staff, students and alumni are stepping in to help.

After speaking to founder of charity organisation Daughters of Tomorrow Ms Carrie Tan, Dr Natalie Pang, Senior Lecturer from the NUS Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Department of Communications and New Media (CNM) learnt that many low-income families were struggling to find laptops to support their children’s learning needs, particularly those with more than one child at home. This kick-started CNM’s ‘Laptops for Families’ campaign.

Starting in April, the campaign aimed to raise funds for second-hand laptops to support these children and their families.  The Department reached out to its faculty, students and alumni contacts via email and social media. In addition to the generous support from faculty and alumni, many students came forward and offered their smart devices and online tutorial assistance.

“When the number of COVID-19 cases began increasing in Singapore, I was concerned about the impact on families, especially low-income families. Things that many of us take for granted – an iPad, a laptop, and a fast Internet connection – have become essentials in this crisis, but may not be accessible to these families. Some families only have one laptop to share between multiple children and working parents,” said Dr Pang. Together with Ms Tan, Dr Pang worked quickly to raise the funds to purchase second-hand laptops for 16 families within two weeks, and right before the Circuit Breaker started.

These laptops were delivered directly to the 16 families by the laptop reseller. Later, thanks to the generosity of the donors, another 12 laptops were donated to the Kolam Ayer Youth Network to support their underprivileged students from YYD Education Centre.

With the success of the initial campaign, the Department is now working with the People’s Association Youth Movement (PAYM) to supply laptops to another 46 families. In this expanded campaign, CNM is also collaborating with the NUS FASS Club to reach out to more NUS students to volunteer as online tutors.

“Digital equity doesn’t stop at having access to devices. It is also about sharing knowledge and helping to build the children’s resilience against online dangers. In the movement, the Department also hopes to also train and prepare tutors in this area so they can better support the children,” said Dr Pang.

“It is part of NUS FASS Club’s vision to empower students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to impact and contribute to society. We are honoured to be able to extend our helping hand to vulnerable groups in our society; this meaningful campaign is an opportunity for students to make a difference to children from low-income families who are especially vulnerable during this crisis.” Year 2 CNM student Chen Jia Jia, NUS FASS Club Vice President (Operations).

Alumni have also been supporting vulnerable families. In April, FASS alumnus, former national sprinter Mr U.K. Shyam, initiated a donation drive, with the aim to collect 600 laptops and tablets for these families.

‘Laptops for Families’ is the first initiative under CNM’s ‘Communication for Public Good’ fundraising campaign. To contribute to this effort, please go to www.give.asia/cnmlaptops by Sunday, 31 May, 2359h.

By NUS Arts and Social Sciences