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Digital Divide

Volume 710: debated on Monday 14 March 2022

4. What steps he is taking to help close the digital divide for children without access to the internet or adequate devices at home. (906037)

We have delivered more than 1.9 million devices to schools, colleges and local authorities for disadvantaged pupils, as part of a £520 million investment during the pandemic. We have also partnered with the UK’s leading mobile operators to provide free data to help more than 33,000 disadvantaged children get online, and we have delivered more than 100,000 4G wireless routers for pupils without connections at home.

When schools closed, the move to remote learning highlighted the digital divide in our society. Schools such as the outstanding Ursuline High School were already at the forefront of technology, giving every pupil a tablet and offering six lessons a day from home right from the start, but others did not have the kit required. For those still on the wrong side of the digital divide, every click widens the attainment gap. Aside from the emergency lockdown devices, what support is being offered to equip schools with the skills, time and kit to ensure that no child is left behind in our technological world?

Let me join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the work that the Ursuline academy did during lockdown. It is very important that schools reached out and provided the help where they could. It is important to recognise that the 1.9 million devices that were provided by the Department during the course of the pandemic were on top of around 2.9 million devices already with schools, so the kit is out there to do this. We will continue to work with colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that disadvantaged households get the technology that they need.

The Education Secretary has announced that his Department will repurpose the Oak National Academy to provide UK-wide online learning. Families facing the Tory cost of living crisis need a guarantee that data used to support learning will not add to their spiralling household bills. Ofcom’s recent affordability report found that 1.1 million households are struggling to afford broadband. With more schools delivering learning via digital means, can the Minister set out whether he intends to keep these services zero-rated indefinitely?

I am pleased to see that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed our announcement this morning on Oak. We think it is a valuable tool that will support exemplification as well as delivering online support to pupils and students. With regard to zero-rating, we welcome the fact that that is continuing and we will continue to work closely with colleagues at DCMS to see how that can be supported over the longer term.