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Despair as digital divide grows

Despair as digital divide grows
27 January 2021

Parents in Orkney have spoken of the daily challenges of remote learning – and called on the Scottish Government to prioritise areas with the poorest coverage and deliver on their promise of superfast broadband for all.

Claire Thomson says her children continue to be disadvantaged due to poor broadband coverage – exacerbated by last year’s lockdown and the latest learning at home.

The pandemic, she believes, has exposed the extent to which rural and island communities still lag behind in terms of good broadband coverage.

Claire, who lives on Hoy with her young family, says that for as long as this inequity and unfairness in connectivity continues, it will have a negative impact on the educational achievements of young people – and their onward life choices.

Claire has two secondary aged sons attempting to continue remote learning with very poor connectivity at their home. She also has a primary aged son.

In fact, to allow any kind of online learning she purchases additional 4G mobile data.

The Scottish Government has provided additional funding to support families facing connectivity issues – anyone in this position should contact the Education Service via email to education.leisure@orkney.gov.uk to see what the available options are.

Claire continued: “We have an issue all the time, but it really has been problematic now with my two eldest sons trying to continue to learn at home. We can afford the additional payments but not all parents can – so what are their choices – they simply miss out even further and the divide widens?

“The first lockdown really highlighted the problem and so I purchased a different network provider SIM card and purchase data to add to that and turned my phone into a hotspot to allow my sons to continue to be able to do a level of remote learning and have some accessibility.”

There are only certain areas in their home where the 4G will work and it means Claire must switch SIMs in her phone to allow her sons to have access.

“We are being penalised because of where we live - we are only asking for a level playing field and to receive the same service that many others receive. We pay for this after all. The system is broken and needs to be fixed as the gaps will simply get bigger and our children will become more disadvantaged.

Our Community Council have raised this for years now and been in contact with providers and the Scottish Government, but it is falling on deaf ears – no one is paying attention.”

She said the pressure being put on young people at present is unacceptable and fears for the mental health of some.

“Young people often put high expectations on themselves and the additional stress at the moment, particularly when they may fear they are falling behind due to being unable to get the access online when they need to, is unacceptable.

As parents we want to encourage and support our children reach their academic potential and not fall behind due to circumstances outwith their control.

“The Scottish Government must follow through on the earlier pledge they have made regarding superfast broadband for all - and areas with the poorest coverage such as ours need to be prioritised.”

The Scottish Government and the Telecom giants need to act fast to close the digital divide now, which is getting bigger the longer they leave it especially in the islands and rural areas. All we are asking for is a reliable and consistent internet connection to allow our children and young people to access online learning – it’s not rocket science!”

Head Teacher at North Walls Community School, Shirley Stuart said: “The current connection we have in our community is not fit for purpose and we have to deal with this on a daily basis, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing situation.”

School Place, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NY

Telephone: 01856 873535

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Orkney Islands Council: BOREAS DOMUS MARE AMICUS