Thousands of families in England who don’t currently have access to broadband are set to receive vouchers for six months of free wifi access, reports the Independent.
The scheme has been set up by the Department for Education and national telecoms provider BT.
Schools standards minister Nick Gibb said the aim of the initiative was to make sure the education of England’s poorest children did not suffer due to the coronavirus pandemic. Around 10,000 families could end up receiving the vouchers, BT predicted.
The announcement was made shortly after the release of a UCL Institute report revealing that millions of pupils have done minimal schoolwork during lockdown. One fifth of children have spent less than an hour per day studying since March.
The families that receive the vouchers will use routers owned by other people and businesses in order to access the internet.
BT said the scheme would “allow access with comprehensive content filtering and will point to online resources from BT’s own Skills for Tomorrow and Barefoot learning programmes, as well as BBC Bitesize and others.”
Mr Gibb stressed that the government will do everything it can to ensure no child, regardless of their background, falls behind due to the pandemic.
He continued: “We have committed over £100m 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.”
However, one academy boss expressed concern that many families still don’t have access to internet-capable equipment, explaining that his staff have had to loan computers to pupils.
Wayne Norrie, chief executive at Greenwood Academies Trust, which is responsible for over 30 schools in England, said: “Remote learning and digital resources have been vital in supporting children’s learning during school closures.
“However, serving a high proportion of disadvantaged families, approximately 60 % across the trust, we recognise the extent of some parents’ struggles to support their children during this difficult time, including providing reliable internet access.”
Mr Norrie added that most families are likely to be connected to broadband at some level, but the degree of connectivity could be challenging in coastal or rural areas.
Researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted last month that pupils from poorer families had lost one-and-a-half weeks’ worth of education by 1 June compared to their wealthier counterparts.