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Coronavirus / MSP writes to education officials amid concerns over number of children unable to access online learning

Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland NewsHighlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

A HIGHLANDS and Islands MSP has written to education officials across the region to establish how many pupils do not have the technology for digital learning.

Jamie Halcro Johnston, who is the Scottish Conservatives shadow education minister, said he is “very concerned that some children are at risk of being left behind” while schools are closed due to the pandemic.

He said he failed to get answers on the issue from education secretary John Swinney.

Some parents in Shetland’s outlying islands recently told Shetland News that poor broadband speeds were hampering their children’s efforts to download and upload work.

One parent in Unst said their child had to wait over 40 minutes to upload 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.

In response Shetland Islands Council’s quality improvement manager Robin Calder said staff were working with families to identify “individual solutions to remote learning” where possible.

Speaking on Thursday, Halcro Johnston said ministers have been “unable or unwilling” to provide estimates of how many children whose homes do not have the sufficient technology required.

“Whether it’s a lack of reliable broadband, or just not having a device or regular access to one, it’s important we understand the scale of the problem so that we can take measures to address it,” he said.

“Our teachers are doing a fantastic job in these very challenging times, and it is heartening to see so many examples of creative learning going on across the region.

“But we need to be able to ensure they can reach the children who may not be able to take advantage of what is being provided.

“Our children don’t get a second chance of a school education and we must make every effort to ensure that no-one is left disadvantaged.”

The MSP’s letter to education officials seeks information on eight points, including the proportion of pupils who do not have effective access to online learning resources, and what efforts the council has taken to mitigate this.

The Scottish Government, meanwhile, has confirmed that it expects schools to reopen on 11 August, with pupils receiving a blend of in-school teaching and home learning.