Companies pitch in to support tele-education with data, devices

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Companies pitch in to support tele-education with data, devices

The country’s three carriers are pitching in to help remote learning during these times of trouble, as the coronavirus leaves students stuck in their homes unable to get to their places of education.

SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ will waive data fees incurred when customers access educational sites including EBS, a state-run educational broadcasting network.

The exemption is being granted to students, their parents and teachers using either smartphones or tablets until May. Only connections to specified educational sites will be included. YouTube and social networking sites are not covered under the program.

These measures have been implemented as the move to digital classes will likely trigger an increase in smartphone bills, since the lessons are primarily conducted via real-time video.

Samsung Electronics will provide 30,000 tablets, while LG Electronics will offer 6,000, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT on Wednesday.

The tablets will be reserved for students from low-income families.

KT, SK Broadband and LG U+, operators of internet protocol television (IPTV), will assign more channels to air EBS programs.

“A household or student can choose the medium at their convenience whether it is online or TV,” the ministry said in a statement.

Still, a family with many children or those from low-income households might need a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

In that case, those in need can turn toward their school or education office in their region to borrow a device for free.

The measures came against the backdrop of the launch of national “tele-education,” which will start from April 9. Questions on how students from low-income families would be ensured education were raised, since the government started considering using digital technology to make sure students and teachers keep a distance amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The company aid, which comes at the Ministry of Education’s request, resolves this issue, but critics say the government has shifted its responsibility to private firms at an urgent time, after years of neglecting to expand IT infrastructure in the education field.

“Last month the server for a live EBS class shut down because it couldn’t sustain the sudden explosion of user numbers,” said an anonymous source at a local mobile carrier. “This phenomenon will likely intensify once tele-education starts, and we’re concerned it will be mobile carriers receiving the blame.”

Another education professor at a national university said the recent event “is proof that [the government] was unprepared with the basics. It shouldn’t be relieved that it somehow put off a disaster with company support. It’s time it comes up with policies and administrative efforts on tele-education.”

BY PARK EUN-JEE, PARK HYUNG-SOO [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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