Aiming to help children who need support in virtual schooling during the UK’s third Covid-19 lockdown, BT has launched the Lockdown Learning Support Scheme.

In response to the closure of schools and colleges, all major UK broadband companies have removed data caps on their broadband packages and, on 5 January, the government launched its Get Help With Technology programme, which aims to increase data allowances on mobile devices to support disadvantaged children.

It is designed to expand temporarily allowances for mobile phone users on certain networks, so that children and young people can access remote education if their face-to-face education is disrupted. Schools, trusts and local authorities can request mobile data increases when schools report a closure or have pupils self-isolating, also on behalf of children who cannot attend school face-to-face because they are clinically extremely vulnerable or restrictions prevent them going to school.

Networks involved in the scheme include Three, Smarty, Virgin Mobile, EE, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile. A day later, Vodafone announced that it was giving small businesses free broadband for 2021 in order to offer support for SMEs as they continue to get through the pandemic.

The BT offer is based on the principle that connectivity is essential for children to keep up with learning at home during the pandemic. BT says it wants to help ensure no one is left behind while face-to-face teaching is on hold and that it has created the offer to ensure the people who need it most can access connectivity support across both its fixed and mobile networks.

In practice, BT will be extending its partnership with the Department for Education (DfE) so that eligible BT and EE customers can gain unlimited mobile data. BT is also giving away free Wi-Fi vouchers to schools and charity partners to distribute so that online educational resources can be accessed from the five million BT Wi-Fi hotspots across the UK.

BT is also aiming to zero-rate some of the most popular dedicated online learning portals to ensure critical learning can continue even when data access runs out. It is confident that such capability will make a difference for those trying to connect to these sites with limited mobile data.

Eligible families without fixed connectivity at home can apply for unlimited free data via their school or local authority, as part of BT’s partnership with the DfE. It will cover them for the rest of the academic year, until July 2021. BT says it has been working closely with the DfE since the start of the pandemic to help get children connected.

The scheme will see unlimited mobile data for EE and BT Mobile customers without a fixed connection in partnership with DfE; free Wi-Fi vouchers for schools and charities to distribute to those who need it most, so that disadvantaged kids and those without a network connection can access home learning resources; and zero-rating of two of the most popular educational websites.

Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer brands, said: “While it might not reach everyone, we feel that even getting one more kid able to home school is worth the effort. We don’t want anyone to be left behind as digital connectivity becomes more and more important. Talking long-term, we want to give schoolchildren the digital skills they need for a brighter future.”

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