Free WiFi announced for NI children lacking digital tech access in lockdown

  • The Department of Education today announced it will provide free WiFi and mobile connectivity 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 has been working with BT and the Education Authority to deliver the scheme which will run for up to eight months. 

    It anticipates that access to free WiFi will be available from the middle of August onwards for eligible pupils who meet the necessary criteria.

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    Priority will be given to children currently in year groups 11, 13, 6 and 3 in this order.

    Priority will also be given to those that receive free school meals, have special educational needs, are part of newcomer target groups (including asylum seekers, refugees and Roma children), looked after children and children who are considered vulnerable. Those that live in rural areas will also be considered. 

    This includes:

    • 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 WiFi vouchers for disadvantaged children with up to eight months internet access.

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    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."

    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 WiFi free of charge. This offering will help to ensure that they will be able to keep up with their important digital learning.”

    Using the agreed criteria schools identify the pupils who do not have access to wi-fi and can make a request through the C2K Exchange. The Education Authority will verify the data submitted and work with schools to determine allocation.

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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