All of Gwynedd’s year 10 and 11 pupils will soon be receiving their own laptops as the county rolls out a new digital strategy, stressing that “no child should be left on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

Backed by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, it will see the immediate release of  £1m of Welsh Government cash to fund the scheme, with the oldest secondary pupils and the county’s teachers among the first to receive their own device.

Eventually, however, the authority plans to roll out the strategy allowing all secondary pupils to have their own Windows 10 laptop until they reach the end of Year 11, as well as Years 5 and 6 in primary school.

Meanwhile, tablet devices between four pupils would be shared in younger primary school age groups with individual Chromebooks provided for every Year 3 and 4 pupil – at a total cost of £2.4m.

Gwynedd Council has confirmed that £1,013,000 of Welsh Government grant funding has now been secured to move this project forward during the 2020/21 financial year, awaiting further cash upon full implementation of the strategy as part of the Welsh Government’s £50m HWB programme.

Inspired in part by the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen more dependence on IT and remote teaching than ever, Cllr Gareth Thomas said that the move would standardise the equipment available for children, having raised concerns that some are dependant on very old computers or even their parents phones to stay in contact with teachers during the lockdown.

The sheer bulk of purchase is expected to drive the cost down, ensuring the best value for money, but the extended closure of schools has also meant that discussions over the funding of replacement technology over the coming years has been delayed.

Members were told schools would be expected to contribute towards some of these costs, but that further talks would be held over coming weeks and months, with the authority expecting the strategy to cost between £440,903 and £572,377 a year in ongoing renewal costs.

Confirming this, a council spokesperson said: “It is recognised that further investment will be needed in future years to ensure the success of this scheme.

“The education department is currently in discussions with the county’s schools regarding the best way to fund the project from 2021/22 onwards.” 

Following Tuesday’s meeting, the cabinet member for education said that the council’s vision is to ensure that every pupil is able to fulfil their potential.

“This ground-breaking initiative that has been developed over the past few years will be central to achieving this ambition and will support all aspects of the new curriculum,” said Cllr Cemlyn Williams.

“From ordering our weekly shop to virtual medical consultations, through the Coronaviurus period we have all seen the potential of technology to drive our economy and support individuals and communities.

“There is no doubt that these new ways of working and living will intensify and become the ‘new normal’ over the coming years.

He added: “Providing all pupils with the same digital tools will ensure that no child is left on the wrong side of the digital divide and that every pupil has the same equipment and opportunity to realise their full potential.

“Employers tell us that businesses and the Gwynedd economy need workers with excellent IT skills.

“This initiative will ensure our young people have the digital skills needed to secure well-paid jobs here in their communities.”