Every school child in Scotland will be given a new laptop in a bid to bridge the ‘digital divide’, says Scotland’s education secretary.
The announcement is a pledge from the SNP if the electorate return them to government following the Holyrood elections in May.
John Swinney set out the policy, that will cost around £350m, at the party’s campaign conference on Sunday.
Every pupil from P1 to S6 will be provided with an age appropriate laptop, for use is school and at home, that will come with a free internet connection.
Swinney says the programme will also provide technical support and training for teachers.
He said: “We put tens of thousands of new laptops and Chromebooks in the hands of children learning at home during lockdown. But I want to do more.
“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.
“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.
“If we are re-elected in May, the SNP will 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.
“We will end the digital divide between those who have access to the rich educational resources of the internet and open that electronic world to every child in Scotland.”
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “The SNP left too many pupils without access to vital devices for learning at home over the last year.
“They ignored our calls for more support for online learning for months but it seems that now an election campaign is under way, they are willing to admit they didn’t do enough.
“The Scottish Conservatives have put forward an ambitious schools catch-up plan to recruit 3000 extra teachers and introduce a national tutoring service. We would put restoring schools at the heart of Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19.
“Instead of focussing on closing the attainment gap, as Nicola Sturgeon boldly promised five years ago and completely failed to deliver, they are once again pushing for another divisive independence referendum.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP has been in power for 14 years. The First Minister has been in post for 7 years.
“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.
“The facts speak for themselves – under the SNP, the digital divide between the wealthiest and the poorest has grown.
“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.
“After 14 years of SNP failure, the people of Scotland deserve better.
“Scottish Labour is focused on delivering a national recovery plan that works for the people of Scotland.”
Meanwhile Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie announced his plans to tackle the attainment gap by extending Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) as part of the party’s Education Bounce Back plan.
He said: “All week I have been talking about education because I believe it is the essential investment that allows everyone to achieve their potential.
“For years the SNP opposed additional funding for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds despite it being a policy that the Liberal Democrats had introduced to great success in England and Wales.
“Eventually after campaigning from my party they agreed to introduce the policy but it’s not permanent. The result is that schools can’t commit to multi-year plans or give staff proper contracts has left hundreds of teachers on temporary contracts when we should be looking to get every available teacher delivering the education bounce back.”
Scottish Greens plan to move the age children start formal schooling to seven, and instead introduce a play-based kindergarten stage for the early years can have a vital role in reducing the attainment gap.
Co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “The SNP were wrong to introduce standardised testing for primary ones, when international studies show younger children learn through play. The Scottish Greens believe Scotland should ditch the British model of starting school at four or five and instead look to our Scandinavian cousins.
“Finland is renowned for its education system, and it is recognised that kindergarten leads to better outcomes later in a child’s school career. The Scottish Greens would introduce this system in Scotland as part of our plans for a green recovery from the pandemic.”
Meanwhile Douglas Ross has accused Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrats of “ignoring the elephant in the room” by refusing to make a unionist coalition.
Scottish Conservative leader was speaking after Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told him to “grow up” and Lib Dem MP Alister Carmichael described him as being “divisive”.
Ross said: “They are ignoring the elephant in the room that while we will all agree that the focus has to be on our recovery from Covid-19 and rebuilding from the pandemic, we can’t do that while the nationalists are determined to take us through another divisive and damaging independence referendum.
“It’s naive in the extreme of Anas to suggest that we can somehow ignore the threat that is being posed by the SNP and the Alba Party.
“We should be focused on getting through the health pandemic and taking on the emergency that will follow, and have the Scottish Parliament 100% laser-focused on our recovery and rebuilding.
“The nationalists want to take us back to the division of the past.”