Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she is “extremely committed” to giving every school child in Scotland a laptop or tablet, despite Conservative claims that the length of time it will take to roll out the scheme will mean some youngsters leave school without receiving such a device.
The First Minister was pressed on how many of the free devices – which were promised to youngsters by the SNP in the run-up to last year’s Holyrood election – have been delivered so far but said she could not say.
Appearing before a special meeting of Scottish Parliament committee conveners, Ms Sturgeon told Education Committee convener Stephen Kerr:
“I don’t have the precise number right now, I will get that for you.”
Ms Sturgeon also promised to give more detail on the “phasing” of the pledge, saying:
“It is a parliamentary term commitment and it is one we are extremely committed too.”
Tory MSP Mr Kerr said this qualification on the timescale had not been mentioned when Deputy First Minister John Swinney made the commitment last March.
Mr Swinney said at the time that if the SNP was re-elected to government, it would
“roll out a new programme to deliver into the hands of every school child in Scotland a laptop, Chromebook or tablet to use in school and at home”.
He promised this would “come with a free internet connection and full technical support”, with Mr Swinney saying the Covid pandemic had shown such devices are “no longer luxuries” and are instead “the basic building blocks of a good education”.
Addressing the SNP conference at the time, the Deputy First Minister said:
“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.
“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.”
But after hearing the timescale of five years for delivery, Mr Kerr said:
“Many thousands of children will have left school before the promise is delivered.”
The Scottish Government, working with local authority leaders at Cosla, rolled out “the region of I think 75,000 devices and internet connections over the course of the pandemic”, the First Minister said.
That came after an assessment was made of those youngsters who were “living in conditions of deprivation” and were “at risk of being digitally excluded”, she added.
Looking ahead, she stressed the ongoing commitment is to deliver the devices to school children “over the term of the Parliament”.
She also hit back at Mr Kerr, comparing the work the Scottish Government is doing to help children and families with the policies of the UK Government.