‘Everything is on the internet’: Homework is hard if you don’t have a computer

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-04-22 14:24

One teen asked for help, and got it

Keeping up with your schoolwork can be difficult at the best of times.

But imagine not even being able to access your homework while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s the reality for many kids in Canada, who don’t have computers, but who are expected to follow along with their classmates online.

Several kids have asked us that question.

A picture of a girl and the question: I was wondering how online school will work for kids who don't have access to computers. - Elicia MacDonald, 11, Toronto

It’s a reality for a lot of kids, like Mahdi Bezzo, 17, from Sherbrooke, Que.

The grade 10 student who moved to Canada from Algeria two years ago didn’t have a computer when his high school closed in March.

“My teacher emailed me my homework, but I wasn’t able to open it on my mobile phone,” he told CBC Kids News in French.

Before the pandemic, he would go to a youth organization or a library to borrow a shared computer.

“Everything is on the internet now,” Mahdi said. “It was hard for me to do my homework.”

A teen does his homework at a desk.

Mahdi is used to doing his homework at his desk without a computer. (Submitted by Mahdi Bezzo)

He spoke to some neighbours and found out about a local woman, Christelle Lefevre, who started a Facebook group that aims to get computers to students in need.

She's getting donated computers from individuals and businesses and delivering them to students in Sherbrooke.

“I told my dad that there were people giving out computers, and I really need one to get my work done,” he said.

He found Lefevre on Facebook and she brought him a computer donated by Bishop’s University, located nearby.

Three kids using computers, smiling.

These kids from Sherbrooke, Que., were all given donated computers. (Submitted by Christelle Lefevre)

The university had about 20 computers in storage that no one was using, said Scott Stoddard, manager of IT client services at Bishop’s.

“In our normal process of upgrading computers on campus, we end up with some older ones that aren’t bad computers, they’re just not top-line business computers,” he said.

Normally those computers are donated or sold with the proceeds going to charity.

“They’re perfectly fine for browsing the internet or watching a YouTube video,” said Stoddard.

Three people stand spread apart beside a truck loaded with computers.

Christelle Lefevre, left, and volunteers loaded a truck with donated computers from Bishop’s University. (Bishop’s University/Instagram)

“This just seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the computers in the hands of people who need them” — like Mahdi, he added.

Mahdi uses the computer to email, download PDFs, and write his assignments with Word.

He’s also created a Facebook account to share some of his photos online, and he shares the computer with his siblings and his parents.

A playground with police tape around it.

Mahdi Bezzo has been taking pictures around his neighbourhood and posting them on Facebook thanks to his new computer. (Madhi Bezzo/Facebook)

He’s grateful to Lefevre for helping out.

“It’s really important to ask for help,” he said, “otherwise you’ll have a hard time in life.”

Kids everywhere need computers

While Mahdi’s story has a happy ending, not everyone is so lucky.

Lefevre has distributed 80 computers in and around Sherbrooke, but is getting messages from people all over Quebec asking for help, and she can’t keep up with demand.

Kids across the country have similar needs and are relying on donations.

In Saskatchewan, 600 students were given smartphones to help them.

The Saskatoon Teachers’ Association and SaskTel, a telecommunications company, have partnered to buy the phones.

In Winnipeg, more than 700 requests have been made to an organization called Inspire Community Outreach, which is arranging to deliver donated computers to kids who need them.

Kaiden Clifton and his mom read a book while at home in Winnipeg. Kaiden, 9, will be getting a computer thanks to donations from a local group. (Submitted by Katerine Cliffton)

In Edmonton, a centre for newcomers has been gathering donated laptops and delivering them to people who don’t have one, including kids.

In Ontario, the provincial government announced that it’s working with Apple and Rogers to purchase iPads with free Wi-Fi for students in need.

With files from Ian Froese, Morgan Modjeski, Andrea Huncar/CBC News

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