Disadvantaged youngsters are to be offered free internet access for six months to help bridge the ‘digital divide’ in some areas of England.
BT are funding a scheme that will provide families in England with vouchers for internet access to support poorer students who are learning online from home.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said everything possible would be done to “make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus”.
The scheme follows warnings that children from poorer families are facing a widening of the social divide in education, with many households not having access to a computer or adequate access to the Internet.
Labour MP, Siobhan McDonagh is leading a campaign for fairer online access, and says there are around 700,000 disadvantaged children without the technology to get online and study at home.
Wayne Norrie, chief executive of the Greenwood Academies Trust, is concerned that many pupils in his schools rely on mobile phone data for an internet connection. This is “not realistic” for online learning, he told the BBC as schools were switching to online teaching in the weeks after lockdown.
“Many don’t have broadband contracts,” added Mr Norrie.
The Department for Education will be distributing vouchers that will provide free access to over five million wi-fi hotspots. Some of BT’s 5.4 million hotspots are located in banks or high street shops, but a spokesperson told The Independent: “The vast majority, approximately 5.1 million, are in homes and provide coverage for surrounding residential areas.”
Recipients of the vouchers can use routers belonging to other people or businesses to access the internet. BT has also set aside a portion of router bandwidth for secure public access.
Local authorities and academies will bid for vouchers for disadvantaged families in their schools and the Department for Education will decide the allocations.
Marc Allera of BT said the scheme would allow thousands of children “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”.