Digital divide: Oak National Academy 'zero-rated'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Oak National Academy has had its content “zero-rated” by 11 major telecoms providers, meaning parents will not incur punitive costs for accessing online lessons.

The digital divide has proved a major obstacle for many disadvantaged pupils trying to access remote education during the pandemic, with mobile data charges a significant part of this problem.

According to figures from Ofcom, 559,000 children have no internet access at all, 1.8 million children are thought not to have access to a laptop or computer at home, while around 913,000 children are accessing online learning from a parent’s mobile phone, incurring punitive data costs.

While the government continues to play catch-up in providing free laptops to disadvantaged children, much quicker progress has been made on getting rid of data charges.

Oak National Academy announced this week that the 11 providers, which include Vodafone, O2, and BT have pledged to allow every family to access all of its 10,000 without being charged for data or counting towards any data limits.

It comes as Oak National Academy reached more than 100 million lessons since the pandemic began. This term alone it has provided more than 65 million lessons and is currently seeing 2.5 million pupils accessing it each week.

According to a recent survey by Teacher Tapp, 46 per cent of all state primary teachers set Oak lessons for their pupils.

Matt Hood, principal of Oak National Academy, said: “This is a hugely welcome step from the telecoms firms, as we hit the milestone of delivering 100 million Oak National Academy lessons. By working together we can now make sure that data costs are not locking our poorest families out of online learning. This will make a huge difference to some of the most vulnerable children across the country.

“I would like to thank everybody who worked so hard for making it happen. This is a watershed moment for remote learning, and a huge step forward.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson added: “Zero-rating Oak National Academy is another huge step in making sure young people can continue to have the best possible education while we all stay at home to save lives.

“This news will be welcomed by families and schools right across the country, and builds on the 1.3 million laptops and tablets we are delivering, as well as partnerships with the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data to disadvantaged families.”

The Department for Education’s roll-out of free laptops for disadvantaged pupils stalled last term. 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.

Since then, better progress has been made with 365,000 devices having been delivered or despatched, bringing the total to 927,689 as of February 4.

Oak National Academy has been funded with £4.84 million of government funding. The full list of telecoms providers who have agreed to zero-rate Oak National Academy’s content is as follows: Vodafone, BT, O2, Three, PlusNet, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile, Sky, SMARTY, EE and Virgin Media.

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