Teenagers in Co Meath can now borrow laptops from their library to help them study at home.

The laptop loan initiative, funded by Facebook, is targeting disadvantaged students who have not had access to a device during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The €809,100 donation will allow Meath Library Service to purchase nearly 900 laptops and wifi dongles.

It will support 50% of fifth year students and Leaving Certificate applied students who do not have digital devices to continue their studies from home.

The local authority estimates that student ownership of laptops may be as low as 20% in Co Meath.

Students say for longer assignments, projects, and essays typing on a mobile phone keyboard is awkward and slow, while downloading PDFs and Word documents can also be problematic due to space issues on phones.

Meath County Council said the initiative aims to address the digital divide compounded by the coronavirus outbreak which has caused disproportionate hardship on those students who are disadvantaged or marginalised. 

Meath County Council Library Service will provide the logistical support, procuring the laptops and delivering them directly to schools who will distribute them to those most affected by social and educational disadvantage. 

The laptops will be loaned to students who need them for the duration of the crisis. Students with no access to broadband in their home will be able to borrow a wifi dongle.

On return, the hard drives will be securely wiped and reset.

Among the schools to receive the first delivery of laptops is Beaufort College in Navan.

Alex O'Hare is a fifth year student at the school and has been working off his phone since schools closed on 12 March.

"You're not able to run websites like Microsoft Word to write out your homework so you have to type it out and then take pictures," he said.

He added he is looking forward to catching up on work now, even though he's officially on his summer holidays.

"There's still a few assignments that you can hand in and I know we're on holidays but I'm sure the teachers will be delighted that we're still handing in work" he added.

Principal Angela Crowcock said the laptops will be of huge benefit to students.

"Our fifth year and Leaving Certificate Applied 1 Groups are the priority. They are ending year one of their two-year senior cycle and have missed a lot of course work. There are 100 students in total and we are most grateful to be considered for the laptop loan initiative" she said.

The laptops will also be made available for the wider community to use when restrictions are lifted in the future.