Scots parents go direct to ministers to seek digital devices

Fresh concerns over a "digital divide" in Scottish education have emerged in correspondence between parents and the Scottish Government about access to devices during schools lockdown.

More teaching is being done online during lockdown

Dozens of emails obtained through Freedom of Information show that concerned families have gone direct to ministers asking for help getting laptops and tablets which are needed under the current "remote learning" regime.

Concerns about other issues, such as youngsters being frozen out of software platforms like Microsoft Teams are also raised with ministers.

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The Scottish Government has funded the distribution of 63,000 devices such as ipads and Chromebooks through £25 million of funding in a bid to ensure children do not miss out as more teaching is done online during lockdown.

Education Secretary John Swinney admitted last week, though, that there is likely to be "variation" in the way remote learning is implemented across Scotland.

The correspondence obtained by the Scottish Conservatives sets out the extent of the issues faced by parents.

Among the dozens of concerns, one states: "I am writing to enquire how I could access the use of a laptop for my son for his school work...My daughter is in first year academy and will need a laptop. I therefore cannot afford to buy another laptop at this time."

Another adds: "I have 3 kids age 5, 12, 14...and I don’t have devices to be able to do this home learning. I have a small mobile no good for 3 kids to be able to do all this on."

A further email to the Scottish Government states: "I’m looking to try and get help to get a laptop or computer for my daughter to do school work."

One parent says that while two older children are using Microsoft Teams, a younger one in P2 has not been given a log-in

The parent states: "We are now in another lockdown and my youngest child has no way of interacting with his teacher. A blog with general work is unacceptable."

Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene is now stepping up the party's calls for funding for remote learning to be doubled.

“The SNP were warned last year that the digital divide in Scotland could exclude thousands of young people from education and now we have concrete evidence of this from parents,” he said.

“Even last week, both the Education Secretary and the First Minister repeated their extraordinary assertion that everyone who needed a digital device or connectivity now has everything they need. This wave of real life correspondence irrefutably proves otherwise.

“Parents across Scotland have been crying out for laptops to be given to their children as a result of the SNP’s failure to distribute devices. John Swinney quite frankly owes them an apology for his head in the sand approach to their children’s education.

“If the SNP doesn’t grasp the severity of this problem, the attainment gap will surely grow shamefully wider.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our £25 million investment to address digital exclusion has to date supported local authorities to provide over 63,000 devices and over 11,000 connectivity solutions to disadvantaged children and young people.

“Low income families with children and young people leaving care who are digitally excluded are being helped to get online with the assistance of a £15 million investment, part of the Scottish Government’s Connecting Scotland programme. It is distributing 23,000 Chromebook and iPads and two years unlimited data as well as support to get online safely and securely.”

A recent £45 million package was also announced to support remote learning during lockdown.

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