January 8, 2021

Keeping Children and Young People Connected to Education During the Covid-19 Pandemic


Maintaining access to education has proved one of the greatest and most critical challenges to us all during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The communications industry, both individually and collectively, have invested enormous time, effort and resources in ensuring that children, particularly the most vulnerable, can stay connected during periods of school closure. 

For example:

  • EE/BT is supplying unlimited mobile data per month to disadvantaged families on EE or BT Mobile until the end of this academic year (July 2021). The free extra mobile data on EE is accessed through children’s schools, and allows eligible families to access any educational resources.
  • O2, in partnership with charity Hubbub, has expanded its national plan to keep the most vulnerable connected over Christmas with Community Calling. The company aims to gift 10,000 unused devices and 12 months of free connectivity to vulnerable individuals in the most deprived areas of the UK
  • Three is providing unlimited data upgrades to disadvantaged school children in England via the DfE programme.
  • Vodafone’s schools.connected initiative has provided 350,000 data SIMs to more than 9000 schools and further education colleges across the UK; and its Great British Tech Appeal asks the public and businesses to donate unwanted devices to which it adds connectivity and distributes, via charity partners, to those most in need.

All four mobile operators, plus Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and SMARTY are supporting the Department of Education’s “Get Help with Technology” scheme for disadvantaged children who do not have access to a home broadband connection to temporarily increase their mobile data allowances.

The great benefit of this approach is that the assistance can be targeted at those that most need it.

Zero rating

In addition to all these targeted measures, some relevant sites have been zero rated (which means that customers on limited data tariffs do not eat into their data allowance when accessing such sites).

Zero rating sites, though, is not a targeted intervention and is much less simple than it sounds.

Many sites use content which is hosted on external sources such as YouTube, Vimeo and Google classroom. To zero rate such a site would involve zero-rating traffic for the whole of YouTube, Vimeo and Google, rather than just the content hosted on the site in question. This would put immense pressure on the stability of networks and would threaten services for all customers.

To zero rate a site, it must be set up and configured so that all its content, such as videos and presentations, is hosted on its own unique domain. As part of the zero-rating process, operators test to ensure customers cannot incur charges, even inadvertently. This takes time and care.

In recent days, the DfE-sponsored Oak National Academy has proposed a technical solution for its content that will overcome the challenges around zero-rating. We understand from conversations with them in November 2020 that they will be looking to move all their content on to their own domain. They now inform us they intend to push forward with this as quickly as possible.

The mobile operators will work closely with Oak National Academy to ensure its solution will work. This would then be a valuable addition to the resources being made available for on-linel earning.

Hamish MacLeod, Director at Mobile UK commenting on the initiative, confirmed:

“EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will, subject to technical testing over the coming weeks, open up free access to the Oak National Academy online lessons so that families can continue to learn from home without using up any of their mobile data allowance until the end of the academic year.”

About Building Mobile Britain

Building Mobile Britain logo

Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

Media Contacts

Gareth Elliott
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076

< View all news items