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Education / Over 40 minutes to upload work – broadband speeds hamper online learning for children in rural areas

SOME families in Shetland are struggling with online learning during the coronavirus pandemic as a result of slow broadband speeds – with one child in Unst having to wait over 40 minutes to upload a piece of work.

Since schools closed in response to the pandemic, children have been given work to complete online via the national education portal Glow while they stay at home.

But some parents in Shetland’s outlying areas say online learning is proving a challenge, especially when it comes to accessing or uploading work.

Gillian Laurenson lives in Norwick at the northern tip of Unst, and a broadband speed of just 0.6Mbps is the norm.

Unst. Photo: Shetland News

She has three children who are all in secondary school, but they are finding it difficult to access Glow.

“It is easy enough for them to log on through their phones to see what work has been set,” Laurenson said, “but to actually do the work they have to go on the laptop.

“To even get the home page to load everyone in the house has to have their wifi switched off. So only one person can be working on a piece of work.”

She said if there are links to access or items to download, it either does not work or takes a “very long time”.

Uploading work can be a challenge too. “Once the work is completed it has to be uploaded to Glow,” Laurenson said.

“It took my daughter over 40 minutes to upload one piece of work, and that even failed the first time.”

She added, however, that her children’s school has been helpful. “When things couldn’t be loaded they did take screenshots and sent it to us,” Laurenson said.

Debra Mallett from Yell said that overall her two children – aged eight and 13 – have been “working well and really engaging with the work that they’ve been set”.

However, they get “frustrated with the slow speed of internet for both uploading and downloading, and when attempting to watch videos” such as clips on YouTube.

“We’ve managed to get there in the end with most of it, but it often takes multiple tries, or just a long time or times out,” Mallett said.

She said at other times it is “not too bad – though having lived south, I know that even at its best, our internet is pretty poor”.

“I don’t know why we have to pay the same here as people in other locations in the UK who get a much better service than we do.”

Shetland Islands Council said parents struggling with their connection are encouraged to contact their school.

Dunrossness Primary School. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Paper copies of learning packs are provided where necessary, while parents are also encouraged to be aware of whether mobile internet – which can allow laptops and computers to connect to 4G data – is available.

Two email address have also been set up which people can contact. For parents it is GlowSupportShetland@shetland.gov.uk and for pupils it is PUPILglowsupportshetland@shetland.gov.uk.

A digital school hub is also available to provide information.

Quality improvement manager Robin Calder said: “Council staff are working with families to try to find individual solutions to remote learning wherever possible.

“We are aware of the limitations of broadband speed and connectivity in Shetland and paper learning packs are provided where necessary.

“We’re trying to ensure that families are aware of the options that may be available, including looking at mobile broadband connections rather than by landlines.

“Any parents who are struggling with connections or suitable devices can discuss this with their child’s school by telephone.”

In addition to online learning, a host of people in Shetland are also working from home in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison recently said that there needs to be “world class” connectivity in place to “rebuild our economy to be more resilient to shocks like Covid-19” in the future and support delivery of public services.

She said the emphasis on working from home “reinforces the need for our governments’ to deliver on their commitments to support full fibre and 5G infrastructure as a priority”.