Weir announces free wi-fi scheme for disadvantaged pupils

Date published: 08 July 2020

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."

This includes:

  • supporting the provision of  an initial quantity of up to 2500 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.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. On 21 May, the Education Minister announced proposals to lend digital devices including laptops and tablets to those children who would benefit most in terms of supporting their learning. In support of this process, the Minister agreed criteria for the distribution of devices via the EA working in tandem with schools. The same criteria will apply for the provision of wi-fi, in addition consideration will also be given to rurality.  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. 
  2. 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.EA will verify the data submitted and work with schools to determine allocation
  3. BT’s Skills for Tomorrow programme is designed to empower 10 million people, by giving them the skills they need to flourish for the digital world. Skills for Tomorrow is a portfolio of programmes and initiatives. The portal has a wealth of support for families, parents and children, including educational interactive games and missions tailored for primary age kids.  For more information, visit www.btplc.com
  4. Follow us on Twitter @Education_ni
  5. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office at Press.Office@education-ni.gov.uk
  6. The Executive Information Service operates an out-of-hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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