BBC Bitesize online lessons will be accessible for free on EE from the end of this month in the latest effort to help children continue learning from home during lockdown.
BT’s three mobile network brands – EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile – will begin zero-rating the service, meaning access to Bitesize content will not use up a customer’s data allowance.
The move comes as millions of children across the UK rely on internet-based lessons in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, while schools only remain open to vulnerable children or those of key workers.
Other mobile networks and internet providers have also stepped up to help in recent weeks, over fears that poorer families could be deprived of their education during England’s third national lockdown.
“Supporting children and young people to continue their education is vital during this challenging time,” said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.“It is fantastic that BT and the BBC have joined forces to remove mobile data charges for BBC Bitesize for hundreds of thousands of families across the country.”
The lack of widely-available, reliable broadband has been made more acute by the Covid-19 crisis – with many children struggling to access remote learning as a result of the so-called “digital divide”.
Many have pointed to one of the core pledges of Labour’s election manifesto in 2019 – which pledged to provide free broadband for all – as an answer to the problem.
Outlining the policy at the time, John McDonnell – the former shadow chancellor – said it was about basic social fairness.
“It’s about large numbers of children being able to do their homework properly, and have the speed of connectivity,” he said. However opponents of the scheme branded it “broadband communism” – and complained it would cost too much.
Former prime minister Tony Blair and three ex-education secretaries have written to the Prime Minister calling on him to act regarding shortages of remote learning equipment and accessibility.
Data from the Office for National Statistics says only 51 per cent of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 have internet access.
“Children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither the data nor the devices to log in from home when their schools close,” Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh – who co-ordinated the letter – said.
“In a country with free state education, no child’s education should be dependent on their internet connection.”
‘No child left behind’
BT said no registration will be required, with zero-rated access to educational Bitesize content through the BBC website and Bitesize app.
It will be available to all contract and pay as you go customers of EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile in the UK.
Bitesize content on iPlayer is also included, after the BBC expanded its educational output and started broadcasting lessons on BBC Two and the CBBC channel on Monday.
“With the pandemic forcing schools to close again we should not allow a lack of digital access to further impact children’s education,” said Tim Davie, BBC director-general.
“This is why I’m delighted we have agreed this partnership with BT to remove data charges when accessing the BBC’s brilliant Bitesize content. The BBC will continue to do all we can to ensure every child, whatever their circumstances, can continue to access vital educational materials during this time.”
Marc Allera, chief executive of BT Group’s consumer division, added: “We want to ensure that no child is left behind in their education as a result of this pandemic, and recognise that we all have a role we can play to help families and carers continue their children’s education while schools are closed.”