A funding bid to purchase more digital devices for students who don’t have access to them for home learning was rejected by the Treasury Minister last year, it has emerged.
Senator Tracey Vallois, who resigned as Education Minister yesterday, told Express last week that she believes the Government should be funding digital devices for pupils whose families can’t afford them - a task local charities have instead undertaken.
Every Child Our Future recently secured £200,000 to purchase over 700 computers and smart devices for students from D’Auvergne, Rouge Bouillon, Plat Douet, St. Luke’s, Janvrin, and Les Quennevais Schools.
The funding boost comes as schooling from home has become more prominent than ever in the wake of covid, and more disadvantaged children struggle to keep up due to a lack of access to devices such as iPads or computers.
According to a Government report, 47% of children who have English as another language or who are eligible for the Jersey Premium have to share access to a computer with their family at home.
Pictured: The then-Education Minister attempted to secure funding for digital devices last year.
Senator Vallois told Express she had been trying to ensure that the Government bridged that gap, but that all her efforts had been in vain.
“We put a business case last year and it got rejected by Treasury,” she said. “I have raised it consistently with my officers.”
“We’re working with Modernisation and Digital, and Digital Jersey again because if things should, I hope not, but if things were to get worse, we need those resources to make sure every child has that opportunity.
“We are looking at whether we can source and where that money comes from. We are also wanting to work with our providers through Digital Jersey to help provide for anyone who doesn’t have wifi.”
In addition, the Education Minister said she was hoping to get the School Catch-Up programme, which aims to directly address the loss of learning and wider educational issues and support children who have fallen most behind during the pandemic, back onto the agenda.
Pictured: A programme aimed at addressing the loss of learning caused by the pandemic will be receiving £900,000 as part of the Government Plan.
While the £900,000 funding required for the 16-month project was agreed as part of the Government Plan, work on the programme was hampered by the spate of covid-19 cases in schools late last year and the risk assessments that have had to be carried out before schools reopen on Monday.
“We saw that kind of move away towards Christmas time because of the pressure that some of our schools were under so it hasn’t been possible to roll it out as well as we would have liked it,” Senator Vallois said.
“But I know our senior advisers are going back to look at that School Catch-Up programme to see what other things that we can do, whether we can improve on that and at what point we can do that to support our low socio-economic students in the appropriate way.
“It will be things like extra lessons, extra support for learning, any mental health support that they require as well, all those types of things that we recognise. We are also undertaking an inclusion review as well.”
Likewise, the £11.6m Education Reform programme has been held back, but Senator Vallois said she hoped work would start as soon as possible.
“It’s kind of sitting on the back burner at the present time because of everything that is going on but we are doing as much as we can in between to try and get that up and running.”
In an open letter issued to the Council of Ministers on Friday, Reform Jersey urged the Government to provide IT equipment and affordable broadband to children in need "as a matter of urgency."
The party's education lead, Deputy Rob Ward, wrote: "The covid situation has exposed the inadequacies of provision for remote learning in schools and colleges. After the first lockdown we had an opportunity to seriously address this issue. This opportunity has been missed. We urge you to prioritise the provision of affordable broadband for families who require it plus the provision of It equipment. This must be seen as an investment similar to that provided for business via the furlow scheme. This long term investment in our children will pay dividends now and into the future. It will also give genuine opportunity for quality online learning and the opportunity for phased returns or blended learning."
He also called for the start of term to be delayed by two weeks to allow the Government time to see the impact of mixing over the festive period on covid cases, and vaccinations for teachers.
Deputy Ward concluded his letter by saying: "Many teachers and lecturers feel they have been thrown into the front line with scant regard to their long-term wellbeing. This needs to be addressed and trust rebuilt in the coming weeks and months."
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