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Youth charity warns cost of learning crisis is hitting teens revising for exams

15th May 2023 by OnSide

Tens of thousands of teenagers revising for exams this summer risk being held back by a lack of access to the internet, laptops and quiet study spaces. The warning comes in response to the latest data from Ofcom, published earlier this month, which found that over eight million households are having problems paying for communications services, including broadband. Three million of those are households with children, and the number of struggling families has doubled since 2021.

We are seeing young people asking for study spaces and access to computers and the internet in their Youth Zones, and we’re calling for young people to be put at the front of the agenda when it comes to the cost-of-living crisis.

Our CEO, Jamie Masraff said:

“Teenagers risk becoming the hidden casualties of the cost-of-living crisis. With costs rising, we are incredibly concerned that not having a reliable internet connection, access to a laptop or a quiet place to study will have a significant impact on young people’s ability to revise and achieve their best in their exams, which could be decisive for their future.

“Youth Zones across our network are telling us that young people are facing additional challenges this year as they prepare to sit their exams. We’ve seen young people asking for access to computers, the internet and for a quiet, calm place to study. At Warrington Youth Zone the boardroom has been turned into a revision room, while youth workers at Mahdlo Youth Zone in Oldham have set up a dedicated Focus Room for revision equipped with 24 laptops, to make sure every young person has access to a computer when they come in.

“Providing the digital access and quiet study spaces that many families take for granted helps to narrow the opportunity gap. Our dedicated youth workers provide support for young people after school, in the evenings, at weekends and in the school holidays, but we are just scratching the surface of the need.

“All parts of society need to give support to our young people through this cost-of-living crisis or we risk leaving a whole generation forever marked by its impact.”

Broadband bills went up by around 14% in April, adding to the pressures on families, while the latest Nominet Digital Youth Index showed that a quarter of young people don’t have access to a laptop, with cost being the key reason, and that 3.7 million young people in the UK would benefit from better digital connectivity.

In addition, the Digital Poverty Alliance has identified that as well as access to an internet connection and a suitable device, the spaces where children and young people access the internet matter too. Their research found that sharing confined home spaces with siblings, parents, carers, or other relatives can create distractions that make online learning more difficult than it would be for a child with a private room and a desk on which to work.

Tom Hughes is a youth worker at BLGC in Bolton. He said:

“I see young people coming to the club every evening to use the Wi-Fi and computers here as they don’t have access to the internet or a computer at home. Many of our young people come from households where money is very tight, it might be noisy or there are younger siblings that need attention.

“In response to the demand we were seeing for study support we recently refurbished our computer room after a patron gifted us eight Apple Macs. We chose calming, pastel colours so it was light, airy and felt calm and focused. It’s become a real hub for young people who want to be able to use a computer and focus on getting a piece of coursework completed.

“I’ve been asked for support on a range of topics from Spanish verbs to faith and ethics questions. While we don’t take the place of teachers, as youth workers we can help young people understand the question or brief, find the information they need online, create study plans, learn how to manage their time, while also giving them a calm, quiet and focused place to study.”

Kaitlyn Walker, 15, is a member at Warrington Youth Zone and is studying for mock exams this summer, before taking her GCSEs next year. She said:

“I share a bedroom with my two younger sisters, and living with them, along with my parents and my grandma, means there’s not a lot of space at home. I don’t have a desk or a quiet space where I can do my revision and I often end up studying while sitting on the stairs, as it’s the quietest spot in the house.

“One of the rooms in the Youth Zone has been turned into a study room, and it feels like a weight has been lifted off me to know there’s a quiet, calm place where I can come to get work done. Being around other people who are studying helps my motivation, and I can come here in the evenings and the weekends to revise, when school isn’t open.

“The youth workers here have helped me with my revision in other ways too. I love the climbing wall in the Youth Zone, and the instructor has been reading out my flashcards for French and English to me while I climb. If I get the answer right, I move up two handholds, and my goal is to get to the top as quickly as possible. It makes revision less stressful and helps me to remember the key things I need to.”

We develop state-of-the-art youth centres in some of the UK’s most disadvantaged areas providing 50,000 young people support from trusted youth workers, and a range of activities and opportunities to develop their confidence and skills. There are 14 Youth Zones in the OnSide Network, with a further eight in development.

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