The new home teaching arrangements during Covid-19 have highlighted how poverty holds children back, Plaid Cymru have said.
In March, at the start of the pandemic, Plaid Cymru called for free individual laptops for school-age children who need it, and free internet to all homes with school-age children who currently do not have access to the internet.
Plaid Cymru's Shadow Education Minister, Sian Gwenllian AM, said if this had been implemented immediately it would have made a difference.
Ms Gwenllian added that after several weeks of the new school system, the “educational inequality caused by poverty” had become clear and warned that an "extended period" of home learning could "widen the attainment gap".
Ms Gwenllian said it was “not too late” to implement Plaid Cymru's suggestion of free equipment and called for clear leadership from Welsh Government to ensure that schools and local authorities across Wales could provide free equipment to the children who needed it and financial support for authorities who needed to urgently buy new laptops.
Ms Gwenllian said the pandemic should not mean children losing their education and that "no child should be left behind."
Eirlys Edwards, head teacher of a Conwy primary school, said that many children and teachers in rural areas of Conwy and Gwynedd do not have access to the internet and are unable to make the most of distance learning activities such as Hwb or Google Classrooms.
Ms Evans said that while they were trying to be "as flexible as possible" to ensure that children without a web connection were not "disadvantaged", the inequality was clear.
Ms Edwards said Conwy had been "leading the way" in responding to the problem by providing free mobile "dongles" to homes in rural and remote areas and suggested that this could be replicated across Wales to ensure that all children have access to the same resources and opportunities.
Last week, the new Wales Anti-Poverty Alliance group wrote to the First Minister to seek financial support for parents who will find it difficult to provide the resources needed to do school work. Without this there is a risk of long-term effects to the future prospects of some of the poorest children in our communities.
Plaid Cymru's Shadow Education Minister Sian Gwenllian AM said,
“Teachers are endeavouring to be as flexible as possible, but such apparent inequalities means that it’s difficult to reach one consistent model of teaching that is suitable to all. Inevitably some will fall behind. Every community and home in Wales – rural or urban, north or south should have the same opportunities when facing this difficult situation.
“With no indication of when schools will reopen, and some speculating that they may not reopen until September, this prolonged period could see a widening of the attainment gap. Having no wi-fi or a suitable devices means children being locked out of their education.
“To that end, Plaid Cymru are calling for school age children who don’t have an individual laptop should get one for free for home learning. The internet should also be provided free for all homes with school age children who don’t currently have it.
“It's not too late to implement Plaid's suggestion of free equipment and I understand that some local authorities provide equipment and 'dongles' to those pupils who need it. Clear guidance is needed from the Welsh Government so that schools and local authorities across Wales provide equipment for children who need it and provide financial support to authorities who need to buy new laptops urgently.
“The Coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t mean that children lose out on their education. No child should be left behind.
Eirlys Edwards, head teacher of a primary school in Conwy said,
“Many children and teachers living in rural areas do not have access to the internet. They may have enough access to send email but not enough to fully access distance learning activity such as Hwb and Google Classrooms.
“We try to be as flexible as possible and use a variety of methods so that children without web connection are not at a disadvantage. However everyone’s situation is different and no single model of distance teaching is going to suit everyone.
“Conwy has been leading the way in addressing this problem by providing mobile dongles to homes in rural or remote areas. This may be a silver bullet that could be replicated throughout Wales to ensure that all children, wherever they live, can access the same resources and same opportunities.
“Conwy have also been offering IT equipment to pupils by hiring equipment from the schools and giving them to parents who need them for their children.
“Because if everyone has access to the same resources, then children would be able to talk to each other through secure learning platforms like Hwb which in turn would have a positive impact on their emotional well-being in such an isolated time.
“Every child, wherever they live, should have the same resources and the same opportunities.