Laptops and Internet Connection for Young People

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 28 April 2022.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the provision of funded laptops, tablets and internet connections for young people across Scotland. (S6O-01014)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

We are committed to providing every school-age child with access to a device and connectivity by the end of this parliamentary session. We have already provided £25 million to councils, which has resulted in more than 72,000 pupils receiving a device and 14,000 receiving an internet connection. Councils have also invested in technology and have indicated that, in total, almost 280,000 devices have been, or are in the process of being, distributed to learners.

That is a complex and ambitious commitment, and we are commencing preparatory work now, ahead of deeper investment in technology from 2023-24.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

That was jam tomorrow, as usual.

In written question S6W-07296 I asked how many laptops and tablets had been handed out by local authorities, and in question S6W-06243 I asked how much it would cost to replace and upgrade devices. The Scottish Government could not provide answers, because it told me that it held no data.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

No records—indeed.

The truth is that the Scottish National Party has not worked with local authorities to provide free laptops. It has made an election promise, thrown responsibility to the councils, issued a press release and moved on. Does the cabinet secretary have any idea whatsoever how many pupils currently in secondary schools will leave school without ever having had access to the free laptop or tablet and the free internet connection that they were promised by the SNP Scottish Government?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Mr Kerr might wish to rewrite the SNP’s manifesto as he continues to rewrite his own party’s. However, as I have made clear every time that we have discussed the matter in the chamber, and as I said in my first answer, we are committed in our manifesto to providing every school-age child with access to a device and connectivity by the end of this parliamentary session. We are absolutely determined to do that.

We have convened the joint partnership board with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to oversee the work so, once again, Mr Kerr is factually incorrect in saying that we are not working with councils. We are, in fact, working in partnership with them to oversee the project and I would have thought that Mr Kerr would be pleased that the partnership between the Scottish Government and local government has enabled the distribution of devices to the equivalent of 40 per cent of school pupils at this point. We will deliver on our manifesto commitment by the end of the parliamentary session.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that young people should also be provided with tuition on the use of the devices and that the correct and proper way to use them is to use touch typing? After all, one would not give a child a violin or a trombone without also arranging for music lessons. People who possess the skill can type at three times the speed of those who cannot. Written communication is now essential for most jobs. Therefore, touch typing would open up more opportunities for young people. Will the cabinet secretary meet me and experts in the tuition of touch typing to consider how that might be progressed?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I thank Mr Ewing for his question and recognise his commitment to the issue, in that we discussed it at committee when he was a member of the Education, Children and Young People Committee. He will be aware that we know that the capability to make the use of technology is equally important to the provision of devices. Therefore, as always, I would be delighted to meet Mr Ewing to discuss the matter further.

The Presiding Officer:

Question 2 has not been lodged and question 3 has been withdrawn.