Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

BCS leads successful calls for free access to educational websites

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Calls to waive data charges for access to educational websites during lockdown are being led by the Swindon-based body that represents IT professionals.

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT argued key sites used by schools and parents should not incur any mobile charges in lockdown.

Many pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds rely on mobile data for internet access – accessing websites for just four lessons a day – using 1,000 megabytes of mobile data – could cost some pay-as-you-go customers £97 a day.

On Tuesday (January 5) BCS called on the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport to negotiate a ‘zero-rating’ for educational websites with mobile data providers.

By Wednesday, BT, Three and Vodafone had vowed to work with the government to offer free data and unlimited broadband for children studying at home.

Help is likely to come through free SIM cards loaded with data – but the initiative will take time to roll out.

Adam Leon Smith, the chairman of BCS, argued: “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.

“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 coordinated 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.”