Digital Education

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 21 September 2023.

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Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

7. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve digital education, in light of the increased prominence of artificial intelligence and cyber technology. (S6O-02542)

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I am acutely aware of recent developments in artificial intelligence and cyber technology, and, in that context, the provision of high-quality digital education has never been more important.

In the programme for government, we have committed to developing a new digital strategy to help ensure that digital provision supports the wider aims of the education system. The £13 million that was allocated in the 2023-24 budget is the first step in delivering improvements in digital provision.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

Earlier this year, I was privileged to visit the National Robotarium at Heriot-Watt University, l ast week, I attended the opening of the centre for data science and AI at the advanced research centre at the University of Glasgow, and this week, I hosted Census in the Parliament. The ambitions for Scotland's digital AI and robotics sectors at those centres are inspirational. What is the Scottish Government doing to foster a direct engagement between schools and centres of excellence to encourage diversity and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The member raises an important point. She has outlined some examples of positive working, and I heard recently about the robotics centre from Liam Kerr, who I understand visited it earlier this week. We would certainly want to do more in relation to linking that opportunity with educational opportunities in school.

That engagement with employers and others to challenge existing inequalities, particularly in relation to access, is a theme of the STEM education and training strategy. There are 20 employer-led Developing the Young Workforce regional groups, which are well placed to make those connections as part of a wider ambition to create a highly skilled and competitive workforce.

Photo of Meghan Gallacher Meghan Gallacher Conservative

The SNP Government has failed to provide digital inclusion funding since 2020-21. As the SNP Government cuts council budgets year on year, how does the cabinet secretary expect local authorities to improve digital education without any support?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

During the pandemic, we provided £25 million to local authorities, which supported the purchase of more than 72,000 devices and 14,000 internet connections for school children across Scotland. As I intimated in my response to Clare Adamson, we will introduce a digital strategy that will work with local authorities, many of which have practical challenges in relation to connectivity in their school estate, which looks different in different local authorities—I hope that the member would recognise that.

However, the important point to remember is that we have a generation of young people going through our education system who require to be upskilled digitally. That is why we launched the laptop scheme and made our commitment in relation to digital devices, and it is why we are introducing a digital strategy that will not only help those young people’s learning and skills but help to improve their learning and understanding as they move into the world of work and further education.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

In 2022, the number of people entering computing teaching training was half the target that the Government set. The STEM bursary scheme has clearly not succeeded in incentivising a career in computing teaching. Does the cabinet secretary accept that unless the Government tackles the chronic shortage of computing teachers, people will rightly question how serious it is about improving education in our schools?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Our new teacher bursary scheme provides bursaries of £20,000 for career changers who wish to undertake a one-year professional graduate diploma in education in hard-to-fill STEM subjects such as physics, maths and technical education—which includes computing science, I must say. National incentives are in place, too, to encourage teachers to relocate to more remote areas. For example, through the preference waiver payment, probationary teachers can receive up to £8,000 if they are willing to complete their probation anywhere in Scotland—I know that, because I undertook that myself many years ago.

The member is right to raise the challenge around certain subject areas. I raised those matters recently with the strategic board for teacher education in relation to how we can ensure that we have a teaching population that meets the needs of our young people. I have committed to work with the strategic board on that matter, and I will seek to update Parliament later this year in relation to that work.