15,000 new laptops for pupils unable to follow lessons online


The government will provide secondary schools with new laptops for pupils at risk of falling as distance learning approaches

Lockdown laptops

Schoolchildren at risk of falling behind in the latest lockdown because they cannot take part in lessons at home will receive new laptops from the government of Flanders. Education minister Ben Weyts announced on Monday that 15,000 new laptops would be provided to the most at-risk pupils, with 4,000 available as early as this week.

Under the latest restrictions to combat the coronavirus, all pupils in years four to six of secondary education will receive lesson online after the extended autumn holiday. These pupils will get a mix of online and in-class lessons, spending no more than half their time in class.

Weyts is not keen on the new policy. “I regret having to do this,” he said. “Face-to-face education is always best, and the total or partial closure of schools always hits the most vulnerable pupils hardest. But now we have to make the most of it and do everything we can to help those students.”

I hope schools will soon be able to decide for themselves how much in-class education they offer

- Education minister Ben Weyts

The government will spend some €10 million on the new laptops, which will become the property of schools. It will be for schools to decide who receives the new equipment, and for how long. The commitment comes on top of the 12,000 second-hand laptops that the government made available during the last school year.

Meanwhile, internet providers Telenet and Proximus will continue to provide free internet connections for pupils who are not connected at home, at least until the end of this school year. Families can request this internet access through the schools.

Weyts acknowledged that some pupils may still remain at a disadvantage, even with a new laptop and a free internet connection. “Many at-risk pupils have no space of their own at home at all, let alone a quiet place to study. Often their parents do not have the time or the skills to guide them in distance learning.”

So he wants to see the latest restrictions lifted as soon as possible. “I hope schools will soon be able to decide for themselves how much in-class education they offer, and to which pupils.”

Weyts also announced that he expected to provide 1,000 laptops for students at colleges and universities in Flanders. “Because there, too, not everyone has easy access to distance learning.”

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