The government is providing disadvantaged children in England with six months free internet access to help with online learning.
BT and the Department for Education (DfE) are working together to open up millions of WiFi hotspots from today.
The scheme will provide 10,000 families with vouchers for internet access, as most primary and secondary school pupils are still out of school.
Access will be provided via a voucher-code system which will allow youngsters to access the web on up to three devices at a time, for six months.
Pupils will be able to use online resources and learning programmes with content filtering.
During the coronavirus pandemic, there have been 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.
An open letter from politicians, education leaders and charity heads warned 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 scheme will give vouchers for free access to five million WiFi 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.
The plan follows the Department of Education’s initiative announced in April, which aims to help England’s most in-need children access vital online learning resources.
The scheme promised to lend laptops to disadvantaged youngsters and has so far delivered 100,000 out of an intended 200,000.
It also delivered 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.
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.”
The news comes as the government has been criticised over its refusal to extend its food voucher scheme over the summer for children who qualify for free school meals in England.
Since the start of lockdown, low-income families whose children ordinarily qualify for free school meals were eligible to receive food parcels or vouchers, but the provision will stop at the end of term.
On this day…
In 1963… Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly to space when she launched on the Vostok 6 mission. After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date.
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