Remote education: Digital divide continues to hit poorest families as third lockdown begins

As the majority of pupils return to home learning, many of the poorest families are being priced out of education because of the “punitive costs of mobile data”, while many more still have no access to devices or the internet.

According to figures from Ofcom, 559,000 children have no internet access at all, while 1.8 million children are thought not to have access to a laptop or computer at home.

Furthermore, the watchdog estimates that around 913,000 children are accessing online learning from a parent’s mobile phone, incurring punitive data costs.

The Department for Education’s roll-out of free laptops for disadvantaged pupils stalled last term. The DfE says that by the end of 2020, 560,000 devices and 54,500 wireless routers had been delivered to schools and councils since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, schools are still angry at the DfE’s decision, quietly pushed out before the autumn half-term, to restrict access to its free laptop scheme. The move meant that schools could only claim about 20 per cent of their allocation, with one academy trust seeing its allocation drop from 465 to 55 devices.

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