Tackling the Digital Divide with Free College Laptops

17 February 2021

Student engagement with digital learning at Rotherham College (part of RNN Group alongside North Notts College, Dearne Valley College and University Centre Rotherham) has been boosted by the College providing hundreds of free laptops to its students.

The laptops were funded by Rotherham College to help provide students access to online learning throughout the pandemic.

RNN Group Head of Quality and Learner Experience Rebecca Blackburn says throughout the pandemic the Colleges have worked extremely hard to ensure all students are able to access blended and fully remote, online learning.

“Last summer we took proactive steps to make an investment and support those in digital poverty. We placed an order for 600 laptops via Dell (one of our partners); it was a bit of a risk as we weren’t sure at that time exactly how many students needed a laptop, but we wanted to be able to provide equipment quickly and at the time there was a delay in supply because demand was so great.”

Rebecca continued: “To succeed at blended learning – and more recently for many students, completing fully remote online learning – we have to make sure that all students have access to the right resources to be able to participate in and complete work that meets the needs of their course. That might involve Google Meets, webinars, videoing assessments and writing assignments, but if a student doesn’t have access to the right equipment to be able to do those things, it can put them at a disadvantage. We strongly believe that every student should be able to access a high-quality education regardless of their situation.”

The initiative has had a huge impact on students who were previously struggling to access learning and engage in blended delivery activities. Level 2 Acting student, Bobbi Louise Commons, was previously using her phone to complete her college work.

She says: “The speaker on my phone broke so I was really struggling to complete my work. My tutor supported me to get a laptop and it’s been easier to get work done and participate in lessons.

“Learning online has been hard because acting is a practical subject and you need to get in the right mindset, but my tutors have really gone the extra mile for us while we’ve been learning at home.”

UAL Level 3 Diploma in Music Performance and Production student Kalem Cutts has also benefited from receiving a laptop.

Kalem says: “I got the laptop in November last year due to my financial situation. At College, we use Google Classroom and Google Hangouts a lot and although I have a phone, it was difficult to be on a video call and try and be part of the Google Classroom – I wasn’t doing the work. Getting the laptop has meant that I can not only do college work but it’s also given me a chance to get in contact with friends and be more social and feel less isolated from the world.”

The laptops are not only being offered to 16-18-year-olds but also to those aged 19 or over, such as English For Speakers of Other Languages student, Fetije Bulica.

Fetije says: “Before I was learning online with my phone and it was very difficult to do work. Now the College has given me a laptop, I’m very happy; it’s easier to do work and to learn. My teacher helped me apply for it – I am very grateful to the teachers at Rotherham College.”

As well as ensuring all students have access to their course learning materials the laptops are also an important step to ensuring that students are developing much needed digital skills.

Rebecca says: “The impact COVID-19 has had on businesses is huge. Their response to pandemic has seen a major shift towards higher-level digital skills and knowledge and as result, this is something we need to prepare our learners to respond to. Many organisations have accelerated processes towards automation and it’s reported that 50% of the entire workforce will need reskilling by 2025*. We were fortunate as a Group that we could respond quickly and had a good foundation of digital skills across the Group already being developed.”

If you are a student that needs a laptop or access to Wi-Fi please contact your Tutor.

Can you help support our students?

We are always looking to work with companies who can help students expand their digital skillsets, please get in touch with Rebecca Blackburn at if you would like to discuss how you can support.


To find out more about the full range of support available to students at College visit ‘Student information’ on our website.

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