17 November 2020

Council seeks to eliminate digital exclusion in schools

Aberdeenshire Council has helped deliver 4100 digital devices to pupils at risk of digital exclusion since August 2020, with more to follow.

Funded by Connecting Scotland, this initiative has helped pupils to continue their learning in situations where Covid-19 has prevented them from physically attending school, or where they need to complete homework and other learning activities outside the classroom. 

Connecting Scotland is an initiative run by the Scottish Government, which aims to eliminate digital exclusion in households across the country. Organisations and local authorities can apply for funding through the programme to help enable households with devices and access to internet.

In June 2020, the council collected data from all Aberdeenshire schools and estimated that around 4174 pupils were at risk of digital exclusion, which means they lack or have limited access to internet and digital devices in their household. 

Based on this data, Connecting Scotland awarded the council a sum of £1,320,234 to be split into two categories:

• Capital (for the purchase of iPads/Chromebooks/MiFi devices)
• Revenue (to fund data packages to allow pupils to access the internet)

2725 Chromebooks and 1375 iPads (with cases) were purchased and have been delivered to schools and pupils across Aberdeenshire.

Approximately 3409 devices were distributed to pupils during Phase 1, which the Learning with Technology team personally delivered to each school, supported by Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust, and clocking up 2000 miles.

Taking into consideration that many families’ circumstances may have changed due to Covid-19, the council launched Phase 2 of the programme shortly after the first allocation of devices.

In Phase 2, schools were once again asked to nominate a second round of pupils who might be eligible for a device.

Anticipating there would not be enough funds to meet the demand of Phase 2, the council applied for funding from the Aberdeenshire Education Trust, which would be used to purchase and allocate additional devices.

After a successful bid, the council was awarded an additional £100,000 from the Aberdeenshire Education Trust Fund. This funding has enabled the council to purchase approximately 550 devices to ensure pupils can continue to connect with their schools and teachers. The council was also able to convert some of the remaining Connecting Scotland funding to purchase additional devices and this increased the number of devices available as part of Phase 2 to 1875.

Cllr. Gillian Owen, Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, said: “This is a wonderful achievement for Aberdeenshire schools. Connecting Scotland and the Aberdeenshire Education Trust have provided us with an invaluable opportunity to keep pupils engaged with their learning outside the classroom.

“Covid-19 has brought challenges to many families; therefore, we want to ensure that everyone has access to learning opportunities regardless of their circumstances.”

Cllr. Rosemary Bruce, Vice Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, added: “It has been a learning curve trying to keep pupils and young people connected with their schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe this is a positive step for home learning, and we’re pleased to have been awarded this opportunity by Connecting Scotland and the Aberdeenshire Education Trust.”

A second strand of Phase 2 will determine how many pupils have no access to internet at home, due to financial hardship. These households will then be supported with to access online learning resources via Mifi devices with data packages.

As part of the Connecting Scotland initiative, it is a requirement to monitor the impact of the devices on children and young people. In addition to this, the council is also monitoring the impact on learning and teaching.

The council hopes to distribute around 5284 devices across phases 1 and 2, which will equate to approximately 15% of pupils in Aberdeenshire. 

To read more about the impact of Covid-19 on schools and childcare: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/schools/schools-covid-19/