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BT has announced that customers using its mobile networks to access the Oak National Academy will not be charged for data used when accessing the site.
The telecoms giant said people using EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile to access educational resources via the government-backed academy will not have to pay data charges to do so.
The announcement comes as most children across the UK have been forced to learn from home, but many of them do not have devices or internet access.
Marc Allera, CEO of BT Group’s consumer division, said: “We’re rapidly boosting our ‘Lockdown Learning’ support scheme by zero-rating access to BBC Bitesize and now Oak National Academy for all our mobile customers.
“Our inclusive support package means families that need it most can get help to keep learning, with unlimited data, free access to our five million Wi-Fi hotspots and now free access to the two most popular educational resources.”
When England entered its third country-wide lockdown this month, with schools closed until at least the February half-term, children were forced to learn from home at short notice via technology such as laptops, tablets or PCs – but according to telecoms regulator Ofcom, between 1.14 million and 1.78 million UK children don’t have access to such devices.
The government is trying to ensure all children have access to the technology they need to learn online, including issuing one million devices to children who do not have them, and investing in online resources such as the Oak National Academy, which provides free access to online lessons for students, and resources for teachers.
But even when children receive these devices, research by Ofcom found that about 7% of UK households rely on mobile data for internet access, a situation many claim is more likely for those in underprivileged households.
Many telecoms operators have supported the government’s Get Help With Technology scheme by allowing schools to apply for mobile data increases for children who do not have fixed home broadband and cannot afford additional data charges, in a bid to ensure everyone can access remote learning.
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Some are also offering free broadband packages to families to ensure children have access to home learning.
BT’s scrapping of mobile data charges for the Oak National Academy, as well as the BBC’s learning resources site BBC Bitesize, is aimed to help families schooling at home to access education resources.
The initiative, part of BT’s Lockdown Learning support scheme, will require no previous sign-up, and will be available to customers of EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile while schools are closed, even if they don’t have any data.
BT has also asked Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations which educational resources would be appropriate for zero-rating in their respective regions.
The zero rate for Oak National Academy resources should be in place for EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile customers by the end of January.
BT has also been giving free Wi-Fi vouchers to schools and charity partners to help people access the internet via BT Wi-Fi hotspots.