Free wi-fi and mobile connectivity will be provided to children and young people who may not have had access to digital technology during lockdown.
This is part of a scheme announced in May to lend digital devices to those children who would benefit most and to ensure continuity of learning when they return to school.
The Department of Education has been working with BT and the Education Authority to deliver the scheme which will run for up to eight months. It is anticipated that access to free wi-fi will be available from the middle of August onwards for eligible pupils who meet the necessary criteria.
Education Minister, Peter Weir said: “I am conscious that internet access is an issue for many vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people. In May, I outlined proposals to lend digital devices such as laptops to those children who would benefit most in terms of supporting their learning.
“A key element of this scheme was to ensure that pupils who did not have access to the internet were able to use the digital devices for online learning. My officials have been working with the Education Authority to progress this issue as quickly as possible.
“I am pleased to announce that BT is assisting us to provide a range of solutions to address connectivity problems for those pupils.”
- supporting the provision of an initial quantity of up to 2,500 MI-FI devices which is a mobile connectivity solution to support those children who are not within a BT wi-fi hotspot; and
- providing 8,300 wi-fi vouchers for disadvantaged children with up to eight month’s internet access.
Continuing the Minister said: “I want to thank BT for their support in helping some of our most vulnerable children. Whilst my Department will provide most of the funding for this important scheme, they are offering their products at a greatly reduced cost, including several hundred wi-fi vouchers provided free of charge.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted our children and young people. I am committed to doing all that I can to support them in the months and years ahead.”
Commenting on the partnership with the Department for Education, Paul Murnaghan, Regional Director for BT’s Enterprise division in Northern Ireland, added: “Supporting children’s education in these difficult times is a major priority for BT. Through our Skills for Tomorrow programme, we already offer a wide range of fun and engaging online resources to help children learn at home. We are pleased that our investment in this partnership will allow young and vulnerable children to have access to wi-fi free of charge. This offering will help to ensure that they will be able to keep up with their important digital learning.”
Priority will be given to children currently in year groups: 11, 13, 6 and 3 in this order; and categories: free school meals, special educational needs, Newcomer target groups (including: Asylum Seeker, Refugee and Roma children), Looked after Children and children who are considered vulnerable; rurality will also be taken into account.