Some three weeks ago, Flemish education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) announced he would obtain 10,000 used laptop computers for the use of disadvantaged children forced to home-school by the coronavirus lockdown.
The announcement came after complaints from organisations working with the poor, who pointed out that some families, particularly those with more than one child, were unable to provide the material necessary for children to be able to follow distance learning assignments provided by schools in lockdown.
As well as laptops, families might also require an internet subscription, something still considered a luxury by families on low or no income.
According to figures from the sector, 6% of families in Flanders have no computer at home, let alone one for each child; 4% have no internet connection. That accounts for 10,000 children of the 1.2 million children in Flemish schools in Flanders and Brussels.
Now, according to the non-profit organisation Digital for Youth, which is administering the project, 85 of the promised laptops have turned up. “Several hundred” more are expected in the course of this week, but the vast majority will not be available until “two or three weeks” from now, said spokesperson Lut Goedhuys.
But Weyts has already said he intends to announce a date for the re-opening of schools next week. While it is unlikely that will be before May 3, the deadline set by the national security council for the next stage of lockdown, it looks increasingly likely that at least some children will be back at school before the start of the summer holidays in July.
According to Goedhuys, the non-profit received 11,400 offers of used computers, 8,500 of which were usable. Those have to cleaned and cleared of all existing files.
But the need turns out to be larger than expected: since there is often more than one child in a home with no computer, the number required is not 10,000, but more. The secondary schools of the Catholic schools network alone needs 10,175; the community education network needs another 6,500.
The office of Weyts told Het Laatste Nieuws it was aware of the problem, and everything was being done to speed up delivery of the promised computers. And the education department called on the non-profits involved to work with others in the sector to carry out the work needed to make the computers ready for use.