How has the reliance on the digital world during COVID-19 affected primary school children living in poverty?

Julie808blog. (2016) Digital Fluency. 5 October. Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2021).

Poverty-stricken children without education

The seemingly everlasting effects of the pandemic we find ourselves emerged in have stemmed far and wide. With the virus pertaining to have no limitations as to who and what it affects, life as we know it has ceased to exist. The same can be said for education; the option of digital based learning has on the face of it saved education for many by allowing for learning to continue in some form. But it has also negatively affected already disadvantaged children living on the breadline, who can be described as facing digital poverty. Their legal right to an education now further overshadowed by socioeconomic status. Research already suggests that before the pandemic 25% of children were living in a family environment that survives on absolute low income and 31% on relative low income (Department for Work & Pensions, 2021). This accounts for more than half of the population of children in the UK and means that unfortunately there is a lack of economic capital to help them extend learning opportunities further afield than the school environment. As Bourdieu explains ‘economic capital is the root of all other types of capital’ -social and cultural (Field citied in Ding, 2009, p.9). Cultural capital is something that has been vastly highlighted by OFSTED in recent years, for its relevance in expanding educational prospects through providing equality of opportunity to secure better outcomes (Andrews, Robinson, Hutchinson, 2017, p.6). However, for children lacking economic capital there are boundaries to cultural capital available. With money comes opportunities to have private tutors, go to private schools, have the best learning equipment and books and most importantly of all in the current climate it affords access to technology, something of which most children living in poverty are excluded from.

Insidetelecom. (2020) Closing the digital divide amid COVID-19. 24 June. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

Digital Poverty

‘Digital poverty’ is a term that most will have heard thrown about during this pandemic. However, this is a problem that society has been trying to overcome since the advancement of technology. The pandemic has just allowed the world to understand the sheer reality of the trouble many are faced when it comes to accessing the digital world in terms of ‘materials in which to access it, the software in which to use it, reliable internet, access to a trained teacher or instructor, an appropriate study space and not being able to access technical support or repair when needed’ (Office for Students, 2020). The term has been thrown about during the pandemic due to the sudden huge reliance upon the digital world that has left many children unable to access the education they are legally entitled to, meaning they are living in digital poverty. The word ‘Poverty’- the state of being extremely poor (Lexico), coined in the term ‘digital poverty’, highlights the clear economic inequalities that are causing such divides between society. The clear difference in capital available to children because of socioeconomic status means they rely on education to provide them with upward mobility and functionality in society. The early years of education are important for this as they set the expectation and help to embed the attendance and participation in school which is critical for learning and educational attainment (University of Delaware, 2018, p.1). Research suggests that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are 4.5 months behind their peers by the time they finished reception at age 5 (Education Policy Institute, 2020, p.10). The disadvantage gap is most prominent in the early years but does however show improvement in most areas over time, highlighting the importance of early intervention within education. However, with schools being closed for an unconceivable amount of time it is only inevitable that the gap will again have increased. Lack of income means inability to fulfil basic human needs such as eating, being warm and health. Maslow depicts these needs in his hierarchy that explains how basic needs that he refers to as ‘deficiency needs’ must be fulfilled in order to allow for ‘self-actualization’ which is as he describes a ‘growth need’ (Masterclass, 2021). Children from low-income families typically receive free school meals whilst at school meaning they have at least one meal a day. At home there is nothing to say they are able to have this meal, especially with the uncertain times causing cut in wages, loss of jobs and redundancy with little support from the government, parents are struggling to meet basic needs. The lack of support from the government goes against the five points displayed in Every Child Matters framework: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and economic well-being (Parliament, 2003, p.6-7). This framework created by the government depicts the points from Maslow’s hierarchy and pushes for all children to be able to accomplish them, so they feel empowered to achieve. For some children the school environment might be the only nurturing environment they encounter where their needs are being met (Colverd, 2021, p.7). This means that with extended periods of time spent at home without all their needs being met, the education of many, if not all, children living in poverty will drastically suffer with some even regressing in their development (Colverd, 2011, p.9). 

Lumen. (N.D) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

Digital exclusion

Without reliable means of accessing the digital world whilst at home, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not only falling behind in their education but also on learning valuable digital skills. Children are considered to be ‘digital natives’ but a common misconception is that they are born with the digital skills necessary to achieve as they can quite often be seen to navigate simple technology with ease, such as loading and using their favourite game or accessing a video on YouTube. However, this passive consumption of the digital world does not equate to proficiency in translating ICT skills into benefits whilst having the skills to avoid the risks that can be presented online, therefore impeding their ability to engage further in educational opportunities (Helsper., Smirnova., 2016, p.13). The digital world is becoming ever more present within society and is now intertwined with pretty much everything that we do, for example, even as a new-born a digital footprint is created in the form of data stored for a birth certificate. Its omnipresence requires so called digital natives, that were born into the world of technology, to foster the ability to utilize positive aspects provided by digital technologies. To do so they must be able to navigate technology in a meaningful way by having the skills to understand its use to be able to make informed decisions of how exactly to use it (Iivari, Sharma, Ventä-Olkkonen, 2020, p.1). Without developing an awareness of the advanced uses of the internet and having online skills such as problem solving, transacting, communicating, creating and managing our information (Wilson, 2017) to use online, social stratification will continue to cause further inequalities within society (Livingstone and Helsper, 2007, p.673). The persistent price tag applied to the use of the internet already causes exclusion to be vastly related to socioeconomic status, with the privilege of wealth affording upper- and middle-class citizens to ‘maintain their position of advantage, first through gaining access and then through increasing the quality of that access’ (Bourdieu, 1984; Golding and Murdock, 2001; Mackay, 1997 citied in Livingstone and Helsper, 2007, p.679). Subsequently without means to afford this expensive subscription to the digital world children are consistently being excluded from educational experiences that will help when it comes to attaining skills necessary for future employment opportunities. The mere ability to use the internet is not enough to allow the divide to decrease as it still does not allow for advanced use of the internet. This creates a cycle of misfortune for disadvantaged children where through lack of resources available to them they are left to suffer the effects of intergenerational persistence, meaning they will likely grow up to be less successful than there more affluent peers and maintain the social class of their family. In Diamond’s geographic luck theory, he provides a response to how different locations have been able to develop faster and more efficiently than others because of their geographical advantages that favour them with a steady stream of resources to manipulate for purpose (citied in Ding, 2020, p.4). The same can be applied in response to why inclusion in the digital world is mainly limited to those of a higher socioeconomic background as they have had the luck of being born into a family who can afford to provide them with the materials needed to make the most the vast amount of information available through the internet. Unlike their peers who have a stream of resources available to them disadvantaged children struggle with confidence online, meaning they encounter more barriers in skills such as how to find and use appropriate information both digitally and in reality. ‘Studies have highlighted issues associated with not being able to formulate and/or provide enough information in their query or not having critical skills to determine which of many semi-identical search links to click; leading to confusion, frustration and defeatism’ (Helsper., Smirnova., 2016, p.30). These feelings experienced online only do more to further the digital divide and exclude people which is why having online skills is extremely important to empower people to want to use the internet. 

Protasova, I. (2018) TOP-10 digital skills every students needs in 2018. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).


Nobody could predict the onset of such a life altering pandemic and the education system was not prepared for it at all. The drastic change made from traditional methods to fully digital based learning has left many disadvantaged children without an education for extended periods of time, meaning they are now set to widen the inequalities between attainment compared to more affluent peers. These problems pertain to be down to the lack of technology available for children who are living in not only poverty but digital poverty. The exclusion they feel from the digital world could massively affect future opportunities available to them in a world that is becoming ever more digital. This allows the for the maintenance of social stratification as lower-class citizen simply cannot afford the means of which to gain wealth through education. This is particularly prominent when it comes to digital skills that are necessary to take full advantage of the positive outcomes possible to achieve from the internet. The internet can provide a mass market in which to use as a resource with the right skills meaning it can be a valuable tool. When digitally confident, disadvantaged young children have the ability to outperform their peers who lack such digital skills to achieve positive outcomes (Helsper., Smirnova., 2016, p.11). However, with the lower class being mostly excluded digitally due to lack of skills they don’t have the opportunity to have digital functionality to help provide upward mobility. This is a problem we should be striving as a society to overcome so that all children can have equality of opportunity to really exceed to their full potential. 

Quote Master (N.D) Quotes about Educational Institutions. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

By E.Keys, 20th May 2021.


Andrews, D., Robinson, D., Hutchinson, J. (2017) Closing the gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2021).

Colverd, S. (2011) Developing emotional intelligence in the primary. Oxfordshire:  Routledge.

Department for Work & Pensions. (2021) Households below average income: an analysis of the income distribution FYE 1995 to FYE 2020. Available at: (Accessed: 5 may 2021).

Ding, Y. (2020) The relationship between parents’ access to social capital and children’s educational outcomes in a global context. Available at: (Accessed: 3 May 2021). 

Education Policy Institute. (2020) Preventing the disadvantage from increasing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Available at: (Accessed: 6 May 2020). 

Helsper, E., Livingstone, S. (2007) ‘Graduations in digital inclusion: children, young people and the digital divide’, new media and society, . 

Helsper, J, E., Smirnova, S. (2016) Slipping through the net. Available at: (Accessed: 15 May 2021). 

Iivari, N., Sharma, S., Ventä-Olkkonen, L. (2020) ‘Digital transformation of everyday life–How COVID-19 pandemic transformed the basic education of the young generation and why information management research should care?’, International Journal of Information Management,

Insidetelecom. (2020) Closing the digital divide amid COVID-19. 24 June. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

Julie808blog. (2016) Digital Fluency. 5 October. Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2021).

Lexico. (ND) Meaning of poverty in English. Available at: (Accessed: 26 April 2021). 

Lumen. (N.D) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

Masterclass. (2021) A guide to the 5 levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2021). 

Office for Students. (2020) ‘’Digital poverty’ risks leaving students behind’, Office for Students, 3 September. Available at: (Accessed: 10 May 2021). 

Protasova, I. (2018) TOP-10 digital skills every students needs in 2018. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

Quote Master (N.D) Quotes about Educational Institutions. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2021).

University of Delaware. (2018) ‘Chronic absenteeism and its impact on achievement’, Center for Research in Education and Social Policy, (P18-002.5).

Wilson, G. (2017) Digital inclusion for all young people?. Available at: (Accessed:15 May 2021). 

Create your website with
Get started