Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today warned that recent UNICEF and Ofcom figures on children’s access to digital learning demonstrates the continued need to end the divide between haves and have-nots. Highlighting estimates from Ofcom that up to 1.7 million children have no home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, Mr Carmichael warned that this divide risked exacerbating educational challenges for those without ready connections to their school.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“1.7 million children across the whole of the United Kingdom have no access to a desktop, laptop or tablet device for learning while away from school. That is the scale of the digital divide in this country now and the impact of it will be with us for some years to come. What are the Ministers doing, along with their colleagues in the devolved administrations to make sure that we close that gap for once and for all?”
Responding, Nick Gibb, Education Minister said:
“We have already supplied 220,000 laptops and tablets to schools and local authorities up and down the country; it’s one of the biggest procurements of computer devices in the country, and we have plans in place for another 250,000 laptops. £160m has been spent ensuring that people do have access to the Internet, should they need to self-isolate, but at the moment 99.8 per cent of schools are open, and 90 per cent of pupils are in school, learning with their teachers.”
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:
“We have all learned to rely even more on technology in recent months, and those left behind will feel it even more keenly because of that.
“All the electronic devices in the world will make little difference if people cannot get online – and up to half a million children still do not have internet access at home in the UK. This is exactly why programmes like the Universal Service Obligation and R100 are so vital to rural and island communities in particular. We need to have renewed energy from the UK and Scottish governments to ensure that these are finally delivered.”