Digital inequalities are defined as not having: access to devices and the internet, participation, engagement, and literacy and skills to take advantage of the online world. Young people living with socio-economic and other inequalities are more likely to experience digital inequality and be less able than their more advantaged counterparts to take advantage of online learning at school and at home. Digital inequalities operate in the same domains as traditional inequalities, e.g. lifecourse, gender, race and class.

This has been most clearly illuminated during the Covid-19 pandemic when schools across Scotland and the rest of the UK closed during national lockdowns. There is great concern of the ‘scarring’ effects on the education and employment opportunities of this generation of young people. This is especially so for those already experiencing socioeconomic and other inequalities.

The findings from this research will help policymakers and practitioners to understand the granularity of digital inequality, to assess the impacts of policy measures such as providing disadvantaged young people with laptops, and to mitigate digital inequality and improve digital services to improve young people’s educational outcomes.

Research focus

This project examines the factors below:

  • What is the patterning in the use of online learning in school and at home for exam aged pupils (S-S6) prior to Covid-19? Does this patterning suggest digital inequality for different groups of young people?
  • How has the use of online learning at home changed during and after the Covid-19 school closures?
  • What impacts have the provision of digital devices and data packages in response to Covid-19, had on young people’s digital inequality as measured by participation in online learning from home?


The project uses data from a national online e-learning service (SCHOLAR) covering 97% of publicly-funded secondary schools in Scotland. This developmental project will analyse SCHOLAR data to investigate patterns of digital inequalities for young people across Scotland in relation to school and area socio-economic status, as measured by free school meal registration and area deprivation.

Research team

Publications and outputs

Digital exclusion in Scottish education – I-SPHERE (


The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit