Many students are still learning via online learning but what if your students don’t have the necessary ed-tech or access to the internet?
Many institutions are solving the problems themselves with innovative approaches.
Although technology has been instrumental in keeping the education sector up and running through the pandemic, the sudden shift to online learning has also strained the digital gap in many underserved communities. Around the world, over two-thirds of school-age children lack the basic means to access online learning. In urban countries, 60% of students don’t have internet access either. In the UK, the BBC reported that 6% of families struggle with broadband costs, thereby “locking out” students from online learning. Experts warn that if this global digital divide is not addressed, it may breed further inequalities that significantly affect students the most.
Stepping Up for Student Needs
Although governments around the world are developing and rolling out programmes to bridge the digital divide, many of the most effective initiatives come from learning institutions themselves. One of the most common means that schools have been closing the digital divide is by supplying devices for online learning. This is particularly helpful in communities where mobile data is accessible, but students lack the hardware to utilise it. In the UK, Computer Weekly states that up to 1.8 million children from low-income families lack access to a laptop, desktop, or tablet. This has encouraged many schools to distribute school-owned devices to students in need. This effort aims to keep students connected to their peers and their teachers, instead of self-studying with paper print-outs.
On top of this solution, schools around the world are also adopting a more specialised approach to the digital divide. This includes specific efforts that target issues especially relevant in their community. For instance, in line with the World Bank’s analysis that the number of children who don’t meet the minimum requirements for reading has risen by 20%, educational institutions in Africa are adopting online measures to address this. With a presence in Uganda and Kenya, Bridge International Academies has developed their at-home Digital Storybooks for their students. This aims to help children practise their reading comprehension via engaging stories that are delivered through flexible educational platforms that include WhatsApp and SMS.
Meanwhile, in the U.S.A., as a growing number of states report poor internet in communities largely populated by people of colour, schools have offered connectivity options. The University of Kentucky, for example, has repurposed its parking lots and public spaces into communal internet cafes where students and teachers may access Wi-Fi. This lets students complete their requirements and download materials they may review at home. By adopting these more nuanced solutions, schools are hoping to improve online learning accessibility and efficacy.
Is the Digital Divide Gone?
As online learning continues to be a necessity amid the Omicron surge, more underserved students will face adoption challenges. Whether due to their rural location or because of financial constraints, students facing a digital gap will continue to rely on school administrators and teachers to bridge this. Hopefully, as schools act as champions for inclusivity and accessibility, more students can begin to fully reap the benefits of online learning. For more on the latest trends in education, please read the article, Teaching with Digital Content.