Today, Shetland’s MSP Beatrice Wishart questioned the Scottish Government on what is being done to ensure access to online learning for those in remote, rural and island communities, as colleges and universities gear up to re-open under a blended learning model.
Ms Wishart noted that Universities Scotland has said that digital poverty will “reinforce disadvantage”, and asked the Minister for Higher and Further Education what will be done for those whose internet speeds “can’t cope” with online learning.
This follows concerns raised by Ms Wishart and Liberal Democrat colleagues about delays to the Scottish Government’s rollout of superfast broadband in the Highlands and Islands.
In response, the Minister for Higher and Further Education agreed that it was an issue that needed addressed, and confirmed that some of the funding announced to address the digital access could help those who are struggling with online access because of rurality.
Commenting following the exchange, Ms Wishart said:
“Questions have already been asked about the equality implications of online and remote learning in the context of schools, and many of the same questions apply in further and higher education.
“Last week I wrote to the Islands Minister to share my increasing concern about the delays to the R100 programme in the Highlands and Islands. It’s well behind schedule, and even the best case scenario leaves many without superfast broadband for years to come.
“The risk is that if blended learning is going to be a feature of higher and further education for some time to come, people with poor access are just left behind.
“The Scottish Government has to step in and stop the digital divide growing any further, one way or another.”