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Locked out of lockdown learning

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Poorest families priced out of home learning by Telecoms Giants – Oak National Academy (@OakNational) calls on Telecoms Firms to Step up 

As the country goes into the third national lockdown and schooling moves online, families across the country are being locked out of learning due to the punitive costs of mobile data. 

Oak National Academy, the country’s online classroom is today calling on the big four mobile telecommunications companies to waive data costs for education websites to allow universal access to education websites, so that all children can learn throughout lockdown. 

According to Ofcom, around a million children are accessing online learning from a parent’s mobile phone. Oak National Academy has delivered nearly 30 million lessons since the first lockdown, and yesterday alone had 120,000 pupils accessing lessons – even before lockdown was announced. This is five times as many on the first day of term in September. 

Whilst access to Oak’s lessons is free of charge, significant charges kick in if a pupil is accessing the site – and any other education site – through a mobile phone data package.

Poorer families often access online education through expensive pay as you go mobile tariffs, whilst better off families have comprehensive broadband deals. According to Ofcom’s 2020 Technology Tracker up to 913,000 children can only access the internet using mobile data, while up to 559,000 children have no access to the internet at all. 

Oak National Academy found that to download a lesson from its website uses 250MB of data. Based on a leading mobile phone provider’s standard UK charges for pay as you go data*:

  • Four lessons a day would use 1,000MB of data to download and cost £97 a day 
  • A two-week isolation period would use up 10,000MB of data and cost £970.
  • Data for a school year (39 weeks) would cost £18,915, the price of a private education for one year, according to the Independent Schools Council. 

In an attempt to tackle the issue, the Department for Education has offered data uplifts to schools, but in a pilot, only 205 people applied for this with the initiative proving too complicated and bureaucratic.  

Efforts to “zero-rate” educational sites have stalled because many educational sites use third-party content providers, such as hosting videos on youtube, vimeo, or embedding google documents. Mobile networks have therefore not been able – or willing – to zero-rate these sites too.  

Oak National Academy is working with their video hosting provider, Mux, to trial a sector leading innovative solution to hosting content that will solve this issue. But with a small team, Oak National Academy is therefore calling on the big four mobile providers to use their expertise and scale to solve this problem rapidly. 

Matt Hood 100x100Matt Hood, Principal of Oak National Academy, said:  

“The cost of internet access to the poorest families is the single biggest issue that is preventing all children being able to access learning during lockdown. What’s more, once again it’s the poorest families that are hit hardest, with the risk of being locked out of lockdown learning altogether. We simply cannot allow this digital divide to determine the education that children receive – we need a universal solution and we need it now.

“It’s time for the big four Telecoms firms to step up and do their bit. It’s very simple: make education sites zero-rated. This cannot happen soon enough and we would urge them to do the right thing and to do it quickly.”

BT & EE partner with the Department of Education to give 20GB of free extra mobile data per month to disadvantaged families 

Responding to last night’s announcement of a national lockdown, a BT spokesperson said:

“Connectivity is absolutely essential to helping children keep up with their learning throughout the pandemic, which is why BT & EE is partnered with the Department of Education to give 20GB of free extra mobile data per month to disadvantaged families

“Available until the end of this academic year (July 2021), the free extra mobile data on EE is accessed through children’s schools, and allows eligible families to access whichever educational resources are needed whilst face to face teaching is paused.”

Other ways in which BT is helping its customers:

  • BT was the first telecoms operator to have an offer for families who needed help with home learning, offering BT WiFi vouchers for free access available since June. Previously distributed through the Department of Education, BT will be offering these directly to families shortly.
  • BT removed caps on all its broadband packages so every customer has unlimited data. This was applied from February 2020 to help customers working, learning or self-isolating at home.
  • These families are also eligible for BT Basic, a £10 per month fixed broadband service.

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