Scottish Government accused of slow progress on digital access for pupils 5

Scottish Government accused of slow progress on digital access for pupils

The Scottish Government has been accused of slow progress on a pledge to equip all pupils with digital devices and free internet connections.

Despite a manifesto pledge to roll out the equipment and services to young people, the government has been unable to confirm the number of devices required, the means by which the roll out will be achieved, or the expected cost of the programme.

Critics said the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) promises to young people are “gimmicks” and demanded “meaningful action” to improve digital access. The government insists that fulfilling its manifesto pledge is a “key commitment”.

Prior to the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP promised to “roll out a new programme to deliver into the hands of every school child in Scotland a laptop, Chromebook or tablet to use in school and at home.”

“It will come with a free internet connection and full technical support. It will be updated when necessary, replaced when needed and upgraded as technology improves,” the SNP said.

This is just the latest example of the SNP’s promises to the young people of Scotland being found out for what they are – gimmicks.

Michael Marra MSP, Scottish Labour Education Spokesperson

“As a child moves through their school life, it will change with them, going from the simpler devices needed at P1 to the more advanced in the senior phase of secondary.”

The party’s official election manifesto made clear the promise applied to all pupils, not just those from deprived backgrounds. Under the heading Tearing Down Barriers, it said: “During the pandemic, we focussed on connecting children most in need, but we will now provide every child in Scotland with a device to get online, including a free internet connection and the support to use it.”

The Ferret used freedom of information legislation to ask what progress had been made in delivering the commitment.

The government was asked to confirm how many devices would be required and how many have already been provided under the terms of the scheme.

The response highlighted the total number of school pupils in Scotland – more than 700,000 – but only confirmed that all would have “access to” a device and internet connection.

Regarding devices already provided, the government pointed to a previous scheme which aimed to provide more than 70,000 devices and 14,000 internet connections by the end of the 2020/2021 school year.

However, The Ferret reported on problems with that scheme last year, highlighting the government’s struggles to meet its targets, as well as geographical disparities in access to the devices.

Government officials were also unable to explain how “full technical support” will be provided with each device, saying this information is not available because they are “still in the planning stages”.

Regarding the costs of the programme, the government advised that it is “unable at this point to be definitive about total costs” of providing devices, free internet and tech support to all school pupils in Scotland.

In response to a final question asking when young people could expect to see the manifesto promise met, officials stated the goal was for this to take place “by the end of the parliament”.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra MSP said: “This is just the latest example of the SNP’s promises to the young people of Scotland being found out for what they are – gimmicks.

He added: “Supporting children to use digital devices and to bridge the gap in digital access between the richest and the poorest is welcome, but only if it is backed up by meaningful action. The young people of Scotland deserve so much better than an SNP government that cannot deliver on its own election promises.”

Judy Robertson, Professor of Digital Learning at the University of Edinburgh, said proposals to provide devices, free internet and technical support to every school pupil are “hugely ambitious” – but that pupils would “definitely benefit from investment in digital learning.”

She added: “Rolling out one to one devices is a complex logistical challenge, and providing ongoing support will be difficult. But it has been done in other school systems across the world so we can learn from them.

“Offering professional development for teachers about using the devices effectively in the classroom will be important too, because the hardware by itself won’t change learning. That’s what teachers do.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have already provided funding to councils for over 72,000 devices and over 14,000 connectivity packages. This is over and above local approaches to digital inclusion undertaken by individual councils across the country.

“By the end of this parliamentary term, the Scottish Government will provide funding to ensure that every school-aged child in Scotland has access to an appropriate digital device and connectivity to support their learning. Work is underway to deliver this ambitious and key commitment.”

Photo Credit: iStock/Tippapatt

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