“Nari Ekta” which means “Women United” was established in 1985 to cater for the specific training needs of BME girls and women. The organisation supports unemployed ethnic minority women from a range of communities, currently residing in Leeds. Most of their learners are women with language barriers, with little formal education or qualifications, and in receipt of benefits. Many have very low levels of confidence and are socially isolated as a result. The organisation help learners to improve their basic skills and language to be able to access further education and employment.

Barriers to digital inclusion

Nari Ekta understand that their learners face multiple barriers to digital inclusion. These include language barriers affecting not have the confidence to access available online facilities, lack of basic digital skills, low literacy levels, fear of eSafety issues, lack of knowledge of online tools and resources, and difficult understanding the relevance of digital to their own lives, and lack of home internet connection.

Becoming Digital Champions

Nari Ekta tutors all attended Digital Champions training which, although as tutors they utilised many of the advocated approaches such as minimising jargon, helped them better understand the barriers to digital inclusion faced by their learners, and cemented an understanding of what they could do to support digital skills development during their lessons.

“At that that time we knew that what we had learned was good and we were going to use it in our classes”.

Utilising the iPad lending scheme to embed digital into everyday activity

By borrowing 15 iPads for use in classes Nari Ekta were able to integrate digital into their existing learning programme across more subjects than before, giving learners more chance to engage with digital, and to engage in a more meaningful way. The iPads were used for new IT classes as well as Life In UK, ESOL, maths, and English classes. The new IT classes covered intent basics like searching, shopping, social media, and email, as well as incorporating how learners can use digital tools to improve their English.

Tutors found the iPads easier to use desk top PCs, and found that they made the classroom experience more engaging, encouraged peer support, and generally facilitated a nicer learning environment. They also found that those with really low levels of digital skills and confidence found it simpler to engage with iPads than they had desktop PCs.

On the phone it seems like things are smaller, and a laptop is bigger but the iPad is still a mobile thing but with a bigger screen, and that’s the benefit

Tutors enjoyed the portability of having tablets with built in connectivity and acknowledged that Nari Ekta having their own similar devices would allow them to deliver courses out in the community, making their services more accessible to a wider audience.

Having the iPads allowed teachers to incorporate useful apps in to lessons, like Google Translate. Despite each learner having a language barrier only a few people already knew about Google Translate, and only one person had used it before, out of two ESOL classes.

“Some people know about it, and know what it does, how it might be useful but don’t use it, it’s the confidence thing”

Being able to introduce the app in a classroom setting made lessons easier and more engaging whilst also giving the learners the confidence to try it, making them more likely to utilise the tool in their everyday life.

“It’s amazing. Even I couldn’t understand their language, but when it [the translated text] shows in their language they are jumping with joy. That was wonderful. When they see their own, their mother tongue alphabets appear, they feel a connection. Like ‘it’s something I can see, my own alphabet’ and that’s a happy feeling.”

This also prompted tutors to encourage learners to use their own smartphones in lessons, supporting them to install apps that the learners would find useful in their day to day.

Loaning iPads to learners

Thirteen learners opted to take an iPad home, meaning they could practice both their digital and ESOL skills in their own time. The tutors found that the learners gained confidence more quickly and they could spend less time repeating the previous session’s content each lesson. Learners, many of whom did not have internet access at home, were able to borrow an iPad for the duration of the course and whole family was able to enjoy using the device. Once downside is that a few of the learners returned the iPads early due to concerns that such an expensive device would get broken, lost or stolen, despite tutors’ assurance that the learners would not be liable. Not being able to monitor the access of children was an additional worry, with some concerned that the children would not look after the device and others finding that their children fought over access.

For the most part, allowing learners to have temporary ownership over an iPad allowed them to explore its potential use and better appreciate the value of having connectivity at home via an accessible device. This motivated at least one learner to invest in an iPad of her own.

She didn’t have an iPad because she didn’t know what’s the use of iPad and it’s the first time she’s used it. When people don’t know what is this then they think oh… they don’t even think to buy something like this, but once you use it and you know how beneficial the thing is, and you know the benefits, then she really liked it.”

Loaning iPads to support learners through the pandemic

Nari Ekta tutors were able to loan iPads to learners in need to support their access to learning and services due to the pandemic.

One learner to benefit is a woman living alone in a hostel after fleeing domestic violence. She is originally from Pakistan, with all her family still living there, and was moved to Leeds from a nearby city in a bid to escape her situation, so has no support network around her. This, in addition to the hostel implementing strict rules banning residents from leaving the building during lockdown, has left the woman very isolated and lacking stimulation. The hostel has no wifi and, though she has a smart phone, she can’t afford data as she is reliant on benefits.

Borrowing a 4G iPad has allowed the woman to complete four courses with Nari Ekta during lockdown, all in pre-GCSE English, and she is now using the iPad to apply for further education courses at Leeds City College. She is also using the iPad to access support from other organisations including bidding for more permanent housing and improving her English language skills.