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Scottish election 2021: What are the parties promising for education and digital learning?
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Education & Skills

Scottish election 2021: What are the parties promising for education and digital learning? 

Tomorrow, Scots up and down the country will cast their vote in the Scottish Parliament election.

To help you decide who you might vote for, we have picked through the party manifestos and compared their key policies on education.

We have also approached each of the parties to see where they stand on digital education, following a year of blended learning that has exposed the digital divide –  the gap between those with able access to a digital device and those without – among students.

So, what are they promising?

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY

John Swinney, the SNP’s education spokesman, said: “This pandemic has reinforced the need to break down barriers to learning. Tools like a laptop and an internet connection at home are no longer luxuries, they are the basic building blocks of a good education.

“If we are re-elected in May, the SNP will roll out a new programme to deliver into the hands of every school child in Scotland a laptop, Chromebook or tablet to use in school and at home. It will come with a free internet connection and full technical support. It will be updated when necessary, replaced when needed and upgraded as technology improves.

“As a child moves through their school life, it will change with them, going from the simpler devices needed at P1 to the more advanced in the senior phase of secondary. And, we will build in partnership with the teaching profession, the support they need to help our children as they learn on the new devices. Just as in my day, the teacher handed out a jotter to all, so in this internet age, we will hand each child the device they need to learn and prosper.

“We will end the digital divide between those who have access to the rich educational resources of the internet and open that electronic world to every child in Scotland.”

In regards to education, the SNP’s manifesto also promises to:

  • Invest a further £1bn to close the school attainment gap and recruit 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants
  • Provide free school breakfasts and lunches for primary school pupils all year and for all children in state-funded special schools
  • Fund the Young Person’s Guarantee of a university, college, apprenticeship, training place or job for every young person
  • Build a childcare system which provides care before and after school all year round, free for the least well-off families
  • Scrap charges for school trips and practical activities for less well-off families, and increase the school uniform grant to at least £120 in primary and £150 in secondary

SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVES

The Scottish Conservative’s education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “The SNP left thousands of pupils without vital digital devices throughout the pandemic. Now, in a shameful bid to try and woo voters they are pledging to deliver a free device to every youngster.

“The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for millions more in funding to put into tackling the attainment gap where the SNP have only made limited progress, which would truly help close the digital divide. Pupils deserve better than the SNP waiting until the election to start bribing them with the prospect of free devices.

“The Scottish Conservatives have committed to delivering full-fibre broadband to every premises by 2027. The SNP has completely failed to deliver on its flagship R100 programme. With people continuing to work from home, we cannot leave employees and businesses behind when it comes to digital infrastructure.

“Every new premises would have to be built with a fibre connection under our plans. We would also invest £120 million in a pupil catch-up premium in order to guarantee that our poorest pupils are not left behind as the advancement of digital technology continues apace. All of our focus must be on rebuilding our communities, rather than being dragged back to another referendum.”

If elected, the Scottish Conservatives have also promised to introduce a dedicated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teacher in every primary school.

In addition, they are committed to:

  • Allocating £1bn of attainment funding to all schools over five years
  • Opposing any cancellation of exams
  • Reviewing the quality of teacher training and recruit 3,000 teachers over the next parliament
  • Allowing every primary school child to access a free school lunch and breakfast
  • Creating a Rural Teacher Fund to attract teachers to work in rural areas
  • Introducing a “subject guarantee” to pupils that allows them all to take at least seven subjects in S4

SCOTTISH LABOUR

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “In the 14 years of the SNP Government, the digital divide has grown, and the limited funding over the pandemic for digital equipment did not meet demand. We cannot allow the continuation of digital barriers for people who need to access basic public services like healthcare, education and social security.

“Scottish Labour’s national recovery plan would include providing enhanced digital training for education staff and a digital device for every pupil. We would also renew the national approach to the digital skills pipeline to nurture digital talent.

“Moving towards a more digital society must mitigate exclusion and respect individual’s choices. And for better broadband, there should be targeted support for households which may not have access, and investment in full-fibre broadband, 4G/5G extensions, and digital hubs for rural communities.

“Older households are also less likely to have internet access and for many that will have made the past year all the more isolating and difficult. At this election, Scottish Labour are offering a “staying connected” grant to every household with someone aged 75 and over to pay for their TV licence or go towards digital connectivity bills.”

In addition to the Scottish Labour party’s promise to provide extra digital training for staff and a digital device for every pupil, they have pledged to:

  • Deliver an Education Comeback Plan, including a personal tutoring programme for all ages and all pupils
  • A resit guarantee for pupils affected by the pandemic, with the offer of a free college place to take national qualifications
  • A guaranteed completion opportunity for probationary teachers to ensure that they can gain registration and help to refresh the workforce
  • Implement a minimum student income
  • A summer comeback programme focusing on sport, outdoor activities, mental health and wellbeing
  • Prioritise vaccinations for teaching and school staff

SCOTTISH LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

On the SNP promising to give out digital devices, Education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said: “This promise is twelve months too late. Learning has been remote for much of the last year, but by January 2021 thousands still didn’t have the devices they needed to connect. There should have been a real sense of urgency around getting devices out. Holding back promises to roll out during an election isn’t a good look for the SNP.”

She added: “When it comes to access to superfast broadband Scotland is divided into the haves and have nots. In our modern world it is an essential tool for people looking to learn, start businesses and allow communities to flourish.

“The SNP steadily and repeatedly pushed back the deadline for delivering fast reliable internet to rural, remote and island communities. Scottish Liberal Democrats will end years of SNP neglect and ensure these communities can thrive by recruiting local project managers to drive the projects to completion and investing in plugging the gaps in this essential infrastructure.”

When it comes to education, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have also guaranteed:

  • A programme to help children bounce back in education including an expansion of outdoor learning, increased provision of school trips and new support assistants
  • Play-based education until age seven based on the Nordic model
  • The legal right to defer Primary 1 and have it replaced with funded early learning and childcare starting this August
  • Every qualified teacher guaranteed a job with a minimum starting salary of £30,000, as well as a review of workloads and career opportunities for existing teachers
  • End national testing of five year olds

SCOTTISH GREENS

The Scottish Greens did not respond to our request for comment.

There is no focus on digital teaching and learning in their manifesto, but the party’s ideas for overturning the Scottish education system are perhaps some of the boldest.

If elected, they promise to:

  • Introduce year-round free school meals for all pupils including breakfast
  • Recruit 5,500 additional permanent teachers and 2,500 more additional needs teachers, and reduce class sizes to a maximum of 20 pupils
  • Make an extra year of funding available for students who need it, for example those who need to repeat a year because of the pandemic
  • Raise the school starting age to seven and introduce a kindergarten stage for three to six year olds
  • End P1-S3 Scottish National Standardised Assessments and end homework in primary schools. In secondary schools, expand continuous assessment of coursework and reduce the role of exams.

Picture: Blackboard/shutterstock.com

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