North and north-east councils have given out more than 20,000 laptops to school pupils since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be revealed.
None of the devices handed over by teachers in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Highland, Orkney, Moray, Shetland or the Western Isles have gone missing or been stolen.
The figures were obtained through a freedom of information request.
Aberdeen council handed out the most school laptops since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020 with 10,037 followed by Aberdeenshire with 5,562.
In Highland, 3,291 pupils received laptops with 1,535 handed out in Moray, followed by 450 in the Western Isles, 403 in Orkney and 360 in Shetland.
Laptops and other computer devices were used by youngsters and teachers so classes could continue during the first national lockdown in 2020.
Councils across the north and north-east also handed out Wi-Fi dongles so pupils without internet access at home could get online.
It meant virtual lessons could go ahead and software systems like Zoom video calls and Microsoft Teams were used.
Council bosses back move to give pupils laptops
Aberdeen city council’s education convener councillor M Tauqeer Malik said that they took action over any technological shortages so nobody was “disadvantaged.”
He said: “Ever since the initial lockdown last year and subsequent closure of schools, we have supplied laptops for all pupils who required one to support home learning and, in those instances where a family did not have Wi-Fi access, provided dongles so that no child was disadvantaged. “
Aberdeenshire Council’s head of education Vincent Docherty said the authority wanted to tackle “digital exclusion” among their pupils.
He said: “We remain committed to eliminating digital exclusion in our schools and have maximised the benefit of funds available through Connecting Scotland, the Aberdeenshire Education Trust and charitable partners.
“More than 15% of Aberdeenshire’s school pupils have benefited from laptops and Chromebooks as well as access to Wi-Fi devices with data packages where necessary.
“This is helping to keep children and young people engaged in learning outside the classroom as well as affording access to many other essential services.”
A Highland Council spokesperson said: “At the beginning of lockdown, our schools were able to set up and deliver quality continued learning and teaching experiences through our already established online learning platforms.
“During the pandemic, it was our aim that young people can connect with their school community, both teaching staff and friends, and have access to resources to support them during these challenging times.
“Our pupils and staff members have benefited from new innovative digital tools, enhanced digital skills and this has empowered all learners including pupils, parents, teachers and the wider community that anyone can be a life-long learner in a digitally progressive society”.
School laptops not just a pandemic issue
A spokesman for Moray Council said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing need for greater access to IT equipment to help support school children with their learning – whether that be at home or in school – which has resulted in an increased investment in equipment.
“The provision of devices aims to support digital inclusion and equality for all learners across Moray in accessing remote learning using online platforms. Scottish Government grant funding provided to the council has supported us in this digital agenda.
“Having the right equipment was essential for children learning from home during the various lockdowns and staff at schools across Moray have done an excellent job ensuring pupils were able to continue with their education.”
Teaching union chief wants laptops to be available at all times
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said access to technology was important at all times not just during a major public health crisis.
He said: “During the pandemic, it was clear that IT connectivity and the lack of digital infrastructure in rural areas was a huge barrier to accessing remote learning.
“Accessing technology is critical, not just during periods of lockdown, but even when restrictions are removed.”