Billions of people around the world have been forced into lockdown almost overnight. Some have adapted well, managing to shift to working remotely. For school children and teachers, this transition has proven more problematic as courses and assessments have moved online. However, for around half of the world’s school and university students, online schooling is a luxury as they lack a computer with internet access or even a mobile internet connection in some situations.
This statistic was recently highlighted by UNESCO, the UN’s educational agency.
“Even for teachers in countries with reliable information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and household connectivity, the rapid transition to online learning has been challenging,” it added.
“For teachers in regions where ICT and other distance methodologies are less available, the transition has been even more difficult or impossible.”
A total of roughly 826 million students do not have a home computer and some 706 million lack an internet connection, making it impossible to access “distance learning”.
Schools and universities are closed in 191 countries around the world. By having so many students unable to keep up with their studies, UNESCO argues that the divides between rich and poor will become even broader.
“Disparities are particularly acute in low-income countries: in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of learners do not have access to household computers and 82 percent lack internet access,” a UNESCO statement reads.
Although they might lack computers or even electricity, it is true that many have low-cost smartphones with an internet connection. However, these devices aren’t suitable for learning nor is the internet bandwidth large enough to support streaming and other e-learning activities. What’s more, 56 million students — half of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa — have no mobile networks for accessing the internet over the phone.
“We now know that continued teaching and learning cannot be limited to online means,” UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.
“We must also support other alternatives including the use of community radio and television broadcasts, and creativity in all ways of learning.”