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SNP promise of free laptops for every primary student branded too little, too late by opponents

The SNP is promising a free laptop or tablet to every Scottish pupil in primary 1 to 6 but their opponents say more should have been done to bridge the country’s digital divide in education at the start of the pandemic, not just in time for an election campaign.

Speaking at the party’s campaign conference on Sunday, deputy first minister John Swinney outlined the £350 million plan to be brought in by a future SNP-lead government.

Each pupil would be given a brand new, “age appropriate laptop, Chromebook or tablet for use in school and at home, with each coming with a free internet connection” the SNP is promising.

The funding would also include provisions for training and tech support for teachers to help students get to grips with the new technology.

“Covid has reinforced the need to break down the barriers to learning. A child cannot do their homework on mum or dad’s phone. And they cannot study online if they can’t connect to the internet. These tools are no longer luxuries. They are the basic building blocks of a good education” says Swinney, who also serves as education minister in the current administration.

“It is time now to recognise that. And, because education is about levelling up, it must be done for everyone. Rich and poor alike.

“Just as in my day, the teacher handed out a jotter to all, so in this internet age, we will hand each child the device they need to learn and prosper”

Veteran teacher Kaukab Stewart, standing as an SNP candidate in Kelvin, says she welcomes the national initiative which promises to build on local efforts in Glasgow, and other parts of the country, to equip more students with tablets.

“During the pandemic I saw first hand many families struggling to get online and with the right tech.

“Investment from an SNP Government will ensure all our children have access to online resources to develop the skills and creativity” she says.

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.

Critics hit out at timing of free computer promises

The opposition has hit out at the timing of the promise of free computers, branding it a campaign trail stunt that highlights how little the government did for education during its time in office.

“The facts speak for themselves, under the SNP, the digital divide between the wealthiest and the poorest has grown” says Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie in a statement.

“This is just the latest example of the SNP hiding its atrocious record in office by trotting out policies that they have failed to execute, or that they have no plan to implement.

“Time and time again, the SNP has missed its own targets for the roll-out of devices – leaving some of the poorest children without access to vital technology and experts baffled at the sluggish pace of the programme.”

Labour Holyrood candidate Barry Black / Supplied by candidate.

Scotland’s schooling ‘digital gap’ highlighted again

Education researcher Barry Black published evidence last year which highlights the impact the digital gap between Scotland’s richest and poorest pupils could have.

“The demand has been painfully obvious for every parent and guardian” says Black, who is standing as a Labour candidate in Aberdeen Central in the upcoming election.

“It’s damning it has taken an election instead of a pandemic for the SNP to realise the importance of digital access. They have been in government for 14 years, it’s perplexing why they can’t do this before a single vote is cast.’

Mr Black’s research showed that nationally, schools in poorer areas were four times as likely to have Higher passes revoked compared to pupils at fee-paying ones, after 2020 exams were cancelled and the SQA was commissioned by the Scottish Government to develop an alternative certification model, based on teacher and lecturer estimates, to maintain standards over time.

Schools across the Highlands and north-east stood to be some of the worst affected by moderated SQA exam results, until a U-turn meant teacher assessments would be used instead.

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