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Remote learning: Families charity warns of digital, emotional and financial challenges

Parents will be worried about remote learning.

A families charity has warned of digital, emotional and financial challenges with a return to remote learning in January.

Fife Gingerbread said the pandemic had compounded difficulties already faced by the lone parent families it supports and that parents would be anxious at the prospect of a return to online lessons.

Manager Laura Millar told of families with several children all trying to learn using a single mobile phone after schools closed in March.

The Scottish Government voiced its determination to have children back in schools on January 18 after just a week of home lessons as most of the country shifts to level four restrictions.

Apprehension

But Laura said there would be a “lot of apprehension” that remote learning could go on longer.

She said: “We know some families were accessing lessons on their phones and you could have two, three kids all trying to home school with just one wee screen.

“That’s really challenging.

“Our focus is on lone parents and there is the whole element of isolation that already exists in being a lone parent, then you are at home schooling children of multiple ages.

“The children are all at different stages, with different demands from the school. Throw in some additional support needs and disabilities and that’s really difficult for parents to manage.

Some families were accessing lessons on their phones and you could have two, three kids all trying to home school with just one wee screen.”

Laura Millar, Fife Gingerbread

“The families we work with, all the issues they deal with existed prior to the pandemic – the loneliness, the extra pressure, financial exclusion, barriers around mental health – but the pandemic really compounded and exacerbated the problems.”

Since schools were closed earlier this year, local authorities have distributed tens of thousands of laptops and devices provided and funded by the Scottish Government to families struggling with connectivity.

Fife Gingerbread, which is supporting families over the festive period thanks to its Heat and Eat appeal, also applied for devices to distribute to some of its families through the Scottish Government’s Connecting Scotland initiative.

Laura said: “Schools have been through this, they will be better versed this time and I would anticipate schools will have more options than before.”

Nevertheless, she said: “Families will be quite apprehensive. It’s a long period of time, with the holidays tagged and at the beginning, and it’s not definite it will only be until January 18.”

Human rights emergency

The charity’s worries were echoed by Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, who warned that closing schools presents a serious risk of harm during what he described as a children’s human rights emergency.

Digital devices provided and funded by the Scottish Government must reach all in need, he said, along with consistent learning support and direct payments to those eligible for free school meals.

“The Scottish Government must ensure that every child that needs a device to access education has one and can access meaningful support for education online.”

Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson

He said:  “Many children and young people have had continued problems accessing online learning during periods of self-isolation, especially those with disabilities and those from families on low incomes and families with one parent.

“We know that parents and carers are doing their very best to support children to learn at home but they need help to do so.

“The Scottish Government must ensure that every child that needs a device to access education has one and can access meaningful support for education online.”

Three-week lockdown for Scotland, travel ban and Christmas easing of rules cut in response to new coronavirus strain

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