BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, has called for educational websites to be exempt from mobile data charges during the pandemic lockdown.
It said some of the key sites used by schools and parents, such as Purple Mash and Classcharts, should not incur any charges as many families rely on internet connections through mobile services which have caps on data usage or operate on a pay-as-you-go basis.
This imposes a financial burden on those who do not have landline broadband, the data caps for which have been removed by major providers following negotiations with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The call comes after the Government announced that schools in England would be closed again under the new lockdown, expected to run into March.
Need for zero rating
Adam Leon Smith, chair of BCS software testing group, said: “Many low income families rely on mobile data for internet access, and the average data allowance is much lower. With schools being closed for the foreseeable future, the DCMS should negotiate a ‘zero rating’ for educational websites with mobile data providers.
“This would be similar to the zero rating already applied to some subscription-only services, like Skype and Twitter, by some mobile providers.
“Schools would need to confirm details of the sites they need, but these can be agreed and refined over time.
“We know the digital divide is a modern measure of inequality – so to support technical solutions it is vital that the quality of guided online learning is levelled up between state and private schools – with teachers given the training and support they need to deliver this well.
“While the commercial sector has turned to digital technology wholeheartedly to enable remote working with considerable success, our schools have struggled through lack of digital skills and access to the right technology and support to do the same for all children in all parts of the UK.
“That must and can change with the right co-ordinated strategic leadership from across government to deliver a truly digital transformation of how we teach children remotely. Making data free is a small part of that overall strategy and is unlikely to have long lasting effects without everything else that has to go with it.”
The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, made a more general call for the Government to ensure children have the IT equipment to continue their learning at home. This would include access to broadband and data.
“More specific requirements should be in place, particularly for direct online contact with teachers,” she said. “Any children who are unable to learn from home because a lack of technology should be able to return to school for lessons with children of key workers and vulnerable children, from next week.”
The DCMS has been contacted for comment.
The Department for Education has already set up a scheme for increased data allowances for mobile phone users on certain networks, including Three, Smarty, Virgin Mobile, EE, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile. Schools, trusts and local authorities can request the increases when there is a closure or pupils are self-isolating.
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