Scottish Labour has described the Scottish Government’s aim of delivering thousands of tablets and laptops to digitally excluded pupils and households by the end of the year as “wildly optimistic”, and said better planning was needed if it was to meet its ambitious targets, some of which were outlined by education secretary John Swinney in June this year.
It comes as the SNP government announced this week that over 23,000 iPads and Chromebooks will be sent to low-income families and care leavers as part of Phase Two of their Connecting Scotland programme – part of the Programme for Government pledge to reach a total of 50,000 digitally excluded people by the end of 2021.
This second revenue stream for digital devices runs separately to Swinney’s commitment of an investment of £25 million to provide tens of thousands of laptops for disadvantaged pupils. In May, the cabinet secretary announced that 25,000 Chromebooks would be provided to pupils – along with a roll-out of digital services – to enable them to study online, now in the hands of the 18 local authorities who took up the offer to distribute.
However, Scottish Labour has pointed out that the SNP government has so far managed to deliver only 8,700 devices through the Connecting Scotland programme. An Inspiring Scotland report earlier this year said it could take up to a year to distribute just 9,000 laptops through local authorities, with up to five months delay in purchasing the devices.
The report also warned that the £25m allocated for devices for school children will not reach nearly enough of those who need them, and casts doubt on the likelihood of the SNP government reaching pupil targets for this year.
Iain Gray MSP said:
“The SNP can talk a good game but they repeatedly fail to live up to promises. With more school children isolating at home or participating in blended learning, access to tablets or laptops is a vital part of ensuring continued access to learning.
“Online learning support for pupils is still very limited and inconsistent across schools – this must be improved given the amount of young people who need to take time away from the school building during the pandemic.
“Scottish government commitments to deliver devices have fallen far short of the mark. The projected schedules for delivery were wildly optimistic given the constrictions of the pandemic, and roll-out so far has been a shambles.
“This is no time for self-congratulation. The promise of Chromebooks just fills the gap left by failure on earlier Connecting Scotland targets and better planning is needed if the SNP government is to fulfil its promises to get digital devices to pupils by the end of the year.”