July 13, 2024

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Specialists in technology

Free internet to help poorer pupils study online

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There have been concerns that disadvantaged families are losing out when lessons are being taught online

Free internet access is being offered for six months to help some disadvantaged youngsters study online.

The scheme will provide 10,000 families in England with vouchers for internet access, funded by BT and distributed by the Department for Education.

Most primary and secondary pupils are still out of school and learning online.

But there have been concerns about a “digital divide” with poorer pupils missing out.

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”.

But there have been warnings that a much greater number of poorer families do not have computer equipment or adequate internet access – and that a social divide in education is being made wider.

Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh, leading a campaign for fairer online access, says there are 700,000 disadvantaged children without the technology needed to study online at home.

Wayne Norrie, chief executive of the Greenwood Academies Trust, has warned that many families in his schools rely on mobile phone data for an internet connection.

This is “not realistic” for online learning, he told the BBC when schools were switching online in the weeks after the lockdown.

“Many don’t have broadband contracts,” said Mr Norrie.

The scheme between BT and the Department for Education will give vouchers for free access to five million wi-fi hotspots.

Local authorities and academies will be asked to bid for vouchers for families in their schools without internet access or who cannot afford data and the Department for Education will decide the allocations.

A scheme launched in April promised to lend laptops to disadvantaged youngsters – with 100,000 so far delivered out of an intended 200,000.

Marc Allera of BT said the free wi-fi 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”.

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