More than 8,000 laptops and tablets are being distributed to help disadvantaged schoolchildren learn at home.
Fife has been given the biggest allocation – 4,139 – from the 25,000 Chromebooks bought by the Scottish Government during lockdown to promote digital inclusion among children and young people.
Some 1,111 Chromebooks have gone to Angus for distribution to pupils who need them.
Both Dundee City Council and Perth and Kinross Council chose to buy their own devices with government grants, and have purchased 2,000 and 1,000 respectively.
And one Fife councillor described the allocation now – with 20,000 having left the government’s hands by mid-August – as “too little too late”.
Lockdown digital divide
During lockdown concerns emerged about a digital divide, as many families lacked IT devices or connectivity for children to complete online assignments issued by schools.
Although schools reopened fully in August, pupils could miss out on more class time if they have to self-isolate for up to a fortnight – as hundreds of youngsters across Fife and Tayside have already done – or if there is another lockdown.
Fife Conservatives’ education spokeswoman Councillor Kathleen Leslie said: “Whilst I welcome the allocation of just over 4,000 Chromebooks to Fife schools by the Scottish Government, it is too little too late.
“The Council advised me in July that of the 53,000 pupils in school in Fife around 5,000 to 6,000 of them had limited access to devices for learning.
“Parents I spoke to told me of having to share one laptop for three or more children or worse still, having to use a smart phone to attempt to connect to home learning.
“Those pupils from deprived backgrounds, as is often the case, were the most disadvantaged.
Parents I spoke to told me of having to share one laptop for three or more children or worse stil, having to use a smart phone to attempt to connect to home learning.”
Councillor Kathleen Leslie
“If the Scottish Government is serious about closing the attainment gap then they should have been ensuring that local authorities such as Fife were provided with the tools to get all pupils connected from the earliest possible date.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman for the region, Councillor James Calder, said: “It is welcome that these laptops that are there to help our pupils from the lowest income backgrounds are finally being delivered and I am pleased that Fife is getting a good share of these.
“There are questions as to why this has been delayed so much this year.
“The Scottish Government should really have got these out earlier in the year, particularly during lockdown when around 20% of our pupils were not engaging in the virtual education offer.
“At least now, if home learning is necessary, we should hopefully be able to ensure many of these pupils who missed out will be able to continue their education.”
At least now, if home learning is necessary, we should hopefully be able to ensure many of these pupils who missed out will be able to continue their education.”
Councillor James Calder
Angus Council said devices are currently being distributed to schools which have identified children based on Scottish Government eligibility criteria.
A spokesman said: “The scheme focuses on children without access to a device, those with additional support needs and those whose attainment could otherwise be adversely affected by the pandemic.”
Instead of accepting the government’s Chromebooks, Dundee City Council applied for a grant for laptop equipment for pupils and received almost £800,000.
A spokesperson said: “The council is currently purchasing around 2,000 G5 ProBooks, along with connection packages, which will be used to support learners across the city.”
Perth and Kinross Council also secured what it said was the maximum grant available to prevent pupils being digitally disadvantaged.
A spokesperson said: “Approximately 1,000 iPads and laptops, together with a number of WiFi hotspots have been purchased with just under 400 distributed to pupils for learning at home.
“We are now working with schools to identify which children and young people will benefit from access to a device for learning at home and to inform future grant investment priorities so as many pupils as possible benefit from the scheme.”
Devices or funding for all councils
The Scottish Government said every council which wanted the devices received a share and those that didn’t were given an equitable share of funding to buy their own.
A spokesperson said: “We are investing £25 million to address digital exclusion in schools.
“Funding allocations for digital devices and connectivity solutions have now been made to all 32 local authorities, who are responsible for making arrangements to secure and distribute equipment to address local needs.
“In total, the programme is expected to deliver around 70,000 devices and 18,000 connectivity solutions for disadvantaged children and young people across Scotland.”
Fife and Angus councils have also been asked for comment.