Government announces major package to support online learning

The Government announced plans on 19th April to support online learning by providing disadvantaged children across England with laptops and tablets as part of a push to make remote education accessible for pupils staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak

Devices will be ordered for children in the most vital stages of their education, those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers.

The government will also provide 4G routers to make sure disadvantaged secondary school pupils and care leavers can access the internet – where those families do not already have mobile or broadband internet in the household.

The country’s major telecommunications providers will make it easier for families to access selected educational resources by temporarily exempting these sites from data charges.

Gavin Williamson said,

“Schools will remain closed until the scientific advice changes, which is why we need to support the incredible work teachers are already doing to ensure children continue to receive the education they deserve and need.

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.”

This week (Monday 20 April) the BBC is launching its own education package across TV and online, featuring celebrities and some of the best teachers – helping to keep children learning and supporting parents.

This is alongside new guidance published on 19th April for parents on how best to support their child’s education and development.

While families stay at home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, some children and young people may face increased risk of abuse or neglect at home - or from strangers online.

The Government will make funding worth £1.6 million available immediately for the NSPCC to expand and promote its national helpline for adults.

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Rural Services Network concerns about connectivity

The Rural Services Network has long campaigned for digital connectivity in rural areas, in England’s rural areas 11% of premises - households and businesses – are unable to access a broadband connection with a 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed. Industry regulator, Ofcom, considers this a necessary speed for everyday online tasks.

In the ‘Time for a Rural Strategy’ document published last year by the Rural Services Network, it reported that in the most remote rural locations connection speeds can be significantly worse. A survey of its members by the National Farmers Union in 2017 concluded that half (50%) could not yet access a basic 2 Mbps connection. Mobile connectivity has improved, but the indoor signal is poor in England’s rural areas, with phone calls on all four networks only possible at 67% of premises.

These measures by the Government are of course welcome to support the education and wellbeing of young people, unable to attend school due to the lockdown.  However we are at risk of creating a two-tier education system between those with access to broadband and mobile phone connectivity, and those without.  Isolated rural communities without broadband, will not have their problems solved by installing a router within their properties!  The Rural Services Network urges Government to ensure that children in rural communities are also considered in their approach to education.

Device Dot Now

Future Dot Now is supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and are coordinating industry action through a new initiative, DevicesDotNow, targeting the 1.9 million households who don’t have access to the internet and are digitally excluded as we face a socially distanced world gripped by COVID-19.

The DevicesDotNow campaign is asking businesses to donate tablets, smartphones and laptops, as well as connectivity in the form of sims, dongles and mobile hotpots.

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