A SCOTTISH council which is currently consulting on a series of controversial school closures sparked outrage by announcing proposals to spend an estimated £860,000 to ensure every pupil has access to a smartphone in the classroom.
Education chiefs at Aberdeen City Council are drawing up radical plans to buy mobile phones for pupils whose parents cannot afford to purchase a device.
The aim is to allow both primary and secondary pupils to use their handsets in class, utilising new wi-fi systems which will enable schoolchildren to connect their phones to the internet for classroom research.
A mobile device management system will filter which sites pupils can use and they will not be allowed to use their handsets to make any phone calls.
The scheme will cost £30,000 to put in place at each of the council’s 12 secondary schools and £10,000 at each of the 50 Aberdeen primaries. It could be rolled out on a school-by-school basis after the summer break.
Opposition councillors, angry parents and members of the public yesterday united in condemning the proposals.
Councillor Gordon Townson, the SNP group’s education spokesman, said: “This is a kick in the teeth for the parents who are opposing the school closure plans. I wonder at the wisdom of committing that amount of money when we have other pressures on us in regard to school closures and school transport problems.”
Councillor Ian Yuill, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “My immediate reaction is that, whilst we want to make sure that children in Aberdeen schools have access to the best possible equipment and technology to aid their education, we would want to be very sure that this represents best value for the council.
“I can understand why parents are surprised by this proposal. I know that my colleagues on the education committee will be asking very searching questions about this proposal.”
Parents also flooded social networking sites to criticise the plan. Charlene McConnachie wrote: “This is another waste of taxpayers’ money from a council who already don’t have enough money to do things that Aberdeen actually need.”
Kelsey Stewart posted: “There are schools being shut down but they are choosing to spend money on this.”
However, David Leng, the council’s head of schools, defended the scheme, saying it was time schools stopped trying to prevent pupils using their phones and instead embraced their potential as a tool for learning. He said: “Our view on smart phones is that, rather than being a problem we need to protect people from, they could actually be an advantage.”
The education chief said he could not stand by and allow a “digital divide” to open up between those families who can and cannot afford the latest technology.