Welsh school pupils who do not have their own internet-connected devices will be provided school laptops and 4G mobile wifi under a new £3m scheme.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said the cash was being freed up as the coronavirus lockdown made learning from home "necessary for most children". Councils can use the cash to repurpose school devices such as laptops and tablets for pupils. The scheme mirrors a similar effort made in England. Ms Williams said: "Modern technology allows us to learn remotely, with a wide range of brilliant learning tools available online. However, I recognise that it poses challenges for many families." The lockdown saw schools stop to day-to-day learning, although some childcare for parents who work in key sectors remains available.
A "digitally excluded learner" is defined as a child who does not have access to "an appropriate internet-connected device to participate in online learning activities from home". Schools are identifying them by contacting parents and carers and replacement devices for those handed out to pupils will also be paid for. Debra Thomas, head teacher at Cowbridge Comprehensive School in Vale of Glamorgan said even families from advantaged backgrounds, "haven't got access to technology, because they're in families with brothers, sisters and parents who are working from home". "And there aren't many families who have a device per member in the family, so that's a challenge." Ms Thomas said she thought there could be "a bigger gap between advantaged and disadvantaged learners" as time went on.
Kirsty Williams said she recognised the challenges of home learning
The Welsh Government provides digital education resources through the Hwb platform. Trystan Edwards - who has two children in Year 1 and 2 at Ysgol Cerrigydrudion in Conwy county, said it was "totally unworkable" for his family given their broadband difficulties. "Generally our internet speed is under 1mb and what we do have, I need to use for work." Speaking before the announcement was made, Eirlys Edwards, head teacher of Ysgol Cerrigydrudion, said some of her parents would struggle with 4G - so work was being mailed out. "In some areas they are so remote, that's not a possibility," she said. "We have some parents working from home with two children and their internet connection is non-existent really - you can just about send an email. "We've been sending work through the post or delivering to doorsteps if needed, it's important to give parents peace of mind that there are other ways to access the work and to be as flexible as possible."