SCHOOLS that allow pupils to use their own tablet computers or smartphones in classes risk reinforcing disadvantages faced by children from poor families who cannot afford expensive digital devices, Scotland's largest education trade union has warned.
A "bring your own device" scheme, which sees students permitted to use their own IT equipment in schools and connect to wi-fi during lessons and in study periods, has proved popular during a trial at Oban High School while it is believed that similar initiatives have been launched in council areas including Edinburgh, South Lanarkshire and Highland.
Argyll and Bute Council, which introduced a pilot among S6 pupils in Oban in November and extended it to include S4 and S5 pupils in February, said early indications had suggested there was "real potential for this approach to have a positive educational impact".
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While most pupils had used smartphones rather than iPads and tablets as had been anticipated, Aileen Morton, the authority's policy lead for education, lifelong learning & strategic IT services, said students were finding innovative ways to use their devices, such as by recording science demonstrations and taking pictures.
But Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said that while there were benefits he still had concerns.
He added: "The EIS recognises the potential benefit arising from the constructive use of technology such as smartphones in a modern classroom. Significant concern remains, however, around issues of equity. Many pupils are already disadvantaged as a result of poverty and lessons which are dependant on access to unaffordable digital devices, for some, may serve to reinforce disadvantage."
The trial was launched following the publication of a report from the Scottish Government's ICT Excellence Group last year, which advocated the use of pupils' own devices, despite smartphones being named as a distraction and secondary school headteachers saying pupils using them against school policy "had the greatest negative impact on staff's experience at school".
The report said a "sensible approach" would be "important, in the current public financial climate". Mr Flanagan added: "It is important to recognise that utilising technology is second nature to young people today and we should seek to harness that skill in the learning process."
Labour MSP and shadow education secretary Kezia Dugdale said new technology was "important" but added: "It is essential that pupils from poorer backgrounds are not disadvantaged."
Argyll and Bute Council said the scheme would continue until the end of term. Discussions to decide whether it will be rolled out across the area will then take place.
A spokeswoman said feedback had been "positive overall" and that Oban High School "provides IT provision to any pupil who needs it". She added: "Pupils can use their own laptops/tablets if they wish; or use the school ones whenever the lesson requires them to.
"The real benefit we have identified relates to the freedom for senior pupils to access the internet from any study area, classroom or canteen whenever they have study, rather than taught, periods."