As the COVID-19 pandemic raged worldwide, schools in nearly every nation closed, forcing their students to continue learning from home. The magic of internet technology has allowed these children to connect with their teachers and educational resources. However, the poorest children, those without access to digital technology, are being left behind.
In August, UNICEF provided 16 teenage girls around the world with cellphones to record how they and their families were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the second episode of the “Coping with COVID-19” series, Education Through a Girl’s Eyes, the girls were meeting the challenges of continuing their education.
A new UNICEF report, COVID-19: Are Children Able to Continue Learning Through School Closures?, addresses the concern that the poorest children unable to continue their schooling because digital technology is not available to their families. According to the report, “at least 463 million students around the globe remain cut off from education, mainly due to a lack of remote learning policies or lack of equipment needed for learning at home.” These technologies include internet service, radio, and television. Although more than nine of every 10 countries called for remote learning, not all students can be reached:
- Students with access to computer and internet technology ranged from a little over 50 percent in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia to 6 percent in West and Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Television-based remote learning had the highest potential of reaching students overall, from 86 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean to about 30 percent in West and Sub-Saharan Africa.
- At least 463 million, less than one-third of schoolchildren worldwide “cannot be reached by digital and broadcast remote learning programs enacted to counter school closures.”
Says the report, “The massive scale of school closures has laid bare the uneven distribution of technology needed to facilitate digital and broadcast remote learning at home, as well as the lack of systems to support teachers and caregivers in the safe, effective and secure use of technology for learning.” With that, television has the greatest potential of reaching these students.
And (from UNESCO), the increased reliance on digital technology raises concerns about digital safety and the protection of children online around the world.
For the United States, a Brookings Institution report cites Federal Communications Commission data that 21.3 million people lacked digital access in 2019. Education Week reports that “a third of K-12 students aren’t adequately connected for remote learning.” And, according to PEW Research, “Some 15% of U.S. households with school-age children do not have a high-speed internet connection at home,” and nearly one in five teens are unable to finish their homework.
Too many children are being left behind!