The government will provide 4G mobile broadband routers and laptops and tablets to disadvantaged and vulnerable students, so they can continue their education during the coronavirus lockdown.
UK schools have been closed for a month and likely won’t reopen for some weeks. While schools have been providing online resources to pupils, some don’t have access to the internet and devices, which means they could be left behind.
The scheme will prioritise students at crucial stages of their education, in year 10; those who receive the support of a social worker; and care leavers. To qualify, children must be without broadband or a computer at home.
The laptops and tablets will be returned to schools for their use when they reopen.
Secretary of Education Gavin Williamson said: “By providing young people with these laptops and tablets and enabling schools to access high-quality support, we will enable all children to continue learning now and in the years to come. We hope this support will take some of the pressure off both parents and schools by providing more materials for them to use.”
It’s unknown if the 4G router will include the cost of the data or have a data allowance—which could quickly be eaten through with the video-streaming much online education entails.
Major telecoms providers have pledged to exempt selected educational resources from data charges, but some videos students use will be on YouTube and other platforms not covered by the exemptions.
Seema Malhotra, Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, welcomed the scheme but said it doesn’t go far enough. Writing in Labour List she said, “The need is much wider than those in Year 10, and so far there is no broader plan. I am deeply concerned about those tens of thousands of pupils we will see fall well behind as they look to potentially four months of schooling at home.”
She also said the government had yet to clarify how many devices would be provided and when.
She urged the government to negotiate with broadband providers to offer free or low-cost broadband packages for a period of five months for households with students which don’t currently have internet.
“Government and industry need to step up and help now. It’s achievable – and affordable for large telecoms companies. The alternative is that many more children in poor households will not just fall behind now but may carry the consequences with them for years to come, and the country will pay the price,” she wrote.
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