Concerns have been raised that sores of north-east pupils could struggle to keep up with their classmates under new home learning plans as 10% of homes in the region have inadequate internet quality.
As schools across Scotland return to online learning as part of renewed efforts to drive down Covid cases, analysis has shown one in 10 Aberdeenshire homes does not receive what Ofcom regards as “decent” broadband coverage.
Education researcher and Scottish Labour candidate for the North East seat at the next Holyrood election, Barry Black, has published research on the impact of lockdown on attainment which highlights the challenges that exist with online learning.
Data from September, which is held by the House of Commons library, shows that 9.4% of homes in Aberdeenshire cannot access adequate broadband.
In Banff and Buchan, there are areas where that tally is nearly 40%.
Of 75 areas in Aberdeenshire, 39 are in the worst 10% of areas in the UK for broadband access.
‘Dereliction of duty’
Mr Black said schools, teachers and parents are being “let down by a lack of support and infrastructure from the government”.
He said “If we look beyond the obvious long-term economic impact of these figures, it can be seen how difficult it will be for many communities in the north-east to even access online learning from today.
“Scotland has remained woefully unprepared for the realities of online learning – and home working – since the start of this pandemic.
“Particularly in rural areas, there is a real risk of the attainment gap widening over the period of lockdown.
“We have known the risk of having to revert to online schooling since the spring, and it is a dereliction of duty that we are still so ill-prepared.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the attainment gap between pupils from richer and poorer backgrounds will “expand rapidly” if the issue isn’t resolved quickly.
Mr Ross said: “All the feedback we have from parents and teachers suggests that schools are scrambling at the last minute to make up for the SNP’s woeful lack of proper planning to deliver online learning.
“Guidance has been vague, leaving parents unsure of what to expect from schools while children are at home.”
MP for Banff and Buchan, David Duguid, said broadband troubles continue to be “one of the major issues” for his constituents.
Analysis from the Scottish Conservatives found 38,000 devices which were to be delivered to pupils have not yet been distributed.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman, Jamie Greene MSP, added “Despite having months to prepare for this situation, the SNP’s planning has been completely inadequate.
“We warned the SNP government for months that they were under-prepared for a blanket move to blended learning, and the inevitable outcome of their failure will be an avoidable and shameful widening of the attainment gap in Scotland.”
In response, a spokesman for the Scottish Government said “Although all legal and regulatory responsibility for ensuring access to digital infrastructure is the responsibility of UK Ministers, the Scottish Government is committed to tackling gaps in broadband coverage in Scotland, to increasing digital participation and ensuring that all of Scotland is able to enjoy the social, cultural and economic benefits of the internet.
“We are focussed on ensuring pupils continue to benefit from a high quality education even during lockdown and have invested £25 million to address digital exclusion.”