Telecoms support for remote education, connectivity and digital skills

The UK telecommunications sector has announced a raft of supportive measures for disadvantaged children and young people, as the majority of the British population enters a new lockdown.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the latest restrictions for England on Monday 4 January, instructing people to stay at home. A key tenet of the new measures is the closure of English schools, with similar school closures and remote education arrangements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

Connectivity Support

To ensure disadvantaged students can access virtual lessons and remote educational resources, a number of UK telecoms providers have pledged their support to children and schools across the country.  

Three, Smarty, Virgin Mobile, EE, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile have signed up to the Department for Education’s Help with Technology programme, enabling schools and local authorities to request mobile data for children without a fixed connection at home, or unable to afford the additional data for devices. The programme also offers 4G wireless routers as an alternative to the data offer. Connectivity needs are also being met by 350,000 free data SIMS from Vodafone through its schools.connected campaign and Virgin Media’s tailored broadband packages to help those facing financial difficulty. Vodafone is supporting small businesses as well, with a free broadband offer to all small businesses, including its existing customers. 

The support pledged by the UK’s telecoms networks and providers at the start of 2021 echo many of the existing measures offered at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, industry agreed a set of commitments with government and Ofcom to support and protect vulnerable consumers, such as help with bills and increased data allowances.  

Support was given to frontline NHS staff who were offered the mobile data access, voice calls and text they need, at no extra cost, on their personal mobiles used for work purposes. Providers also gave their customers free access to health information websites such as nhs.uk.

Devices and content

For those without devices, DfE has pledged to deliver one million laptops and tablets to schoolchildren by Easter, and children will be able to access the BBC’s “biggest education offer in its history” across multiple platforms like Bitesize Daily from Monday 11 January. This builds on the continued support provided to vulnerable and disadvantaged young people by supplying digital devices and internet access. 560,000 devices have been provided so far—the outcome of efforts by Government and the tech industry in partnership to deliver rapid infrastructure transformation. Schools, educators, and parents must be given the right tools to ensure young people are safe online and able to continue their education while at home. To tackle the digital divide, 2020 also saw initiatives like Vodafone and Barnado’s ‘The Great British Tech Appeal’, BT’s Skills for Tomorrow training resource and Top Tips for Tech with ITV. 

While these measures are as welcome in the new year as they were in 2020, it is clear more needs to be done to tackle the digital divide and ensure that every child in the UK can successfully learn and thrive in their homes. And while these efforts go a long way, we know that there is more urgently needed and we will be working with Government, the tech sector and education providers to explore how to target this support. 

Jo O'Riordan

Jo O'Riordan

Head of Spectrum Policy and Telecoms, techUK

Sophie James

Sophie James

Programme Manager, Communications Infrastructure and Services, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, Broadband Stakeholder Group

Nimmi Patel

Nimmi Patel

Policy Manager, Skills, Talent and Diversity, techUK

Antony Walker

Antony Walker

Deputy CEO, techUK