Free internet for six months to help disadvantaged children learn at home
Children from disadvantaged families in England will be provided with six months free internet access to help with their online learning during the coronavirus crisis.
BT has teamed up with the Department for Education (DfE) to open millions of WiFi hotspots from today.
The initiative comes amid fears that millions of school children are doing no work from home, with the majority of pupils set to continue missing school until September. The Chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP suggested ‘2.5 million’ kids ‘are not learning’ away rom school.
Access to the hotspots will be provided via a BT WiFi voucher-code and will allow youngsters to get online on up to three devices at a time, for six months. The voucher will allow access with comprehensive content filtering, and will point children to online resources and learning programmes.
Distribution will be handled directly by the DfE, which will issue families with the necessary voucher usernames and passwords.
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During the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations have raised concerns that the attainment gap between pupils from poorer backgrounds and their wealthier peers has grown, in part due to a lack of access to technology.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Halfon said he was worried that Britain is facing ‘an ice age for vulnerable children’ as he also backed England striker Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals for struggling families.
Meanwhile an open letter from politicians, education leaders and charity heads warned yesterday that at least 700,000 disadvantaged children had missed out due to a lack of computer or internet access and that they could not complete their homework.
Marc Allera, chief executive of BT’s consumer division, said: ‘Offering up our WiFi hotspots estate will ensure that thousands more children will ultimately be able to keep up with their important digital learning and online schoolwork for the rest of term and over the summer holidays as well as into the autumn.’
The plan follows the DfE’s initiative announced in April, which aims to help England’s most in-need children access vital online learning resources.
More than 50,000 4G wireless routers, for children in secondary school with a social worker, care leavers and children in year 10 without access to the internet, have already been provided.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘The Government will do everything possible to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.
‘We have committed over £100 million to support pupils with remote education, including to provide laptops, tablets and 4G wireless routers to disadvantaged children and young people, and this initiative will build on that work.
‘High quality internet access will continue to play an important role for children and families as we work towards pupils returning to schools in September, and I am hugely grateful to BT for their support in delivering this scheme.’
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