According to the data collected by UNESCO, by 3rd August 2020, 105 countries are facing country-wide closures. As estimated, more than 1 billion learners were affected, which accounted for 60.5% of enrolled learners worldwide.
While the education industry handled the situation by switching to remote learning, the access for the same has unfortunately not reached everyone on an equal scale. This is due to the issues faced in the infrastructural arena. The keys to accessing remote learning are the internet and electricity.
While easy access to the internet and electricity is part and parcel of the high income countries, it is a dream way too far to achieve in the low income countries. If we take a deeper look into the digital divide that is rampant currently, 71 countries out of the 183 countries have meager access to the internet. Unfortunately, many of them are among the worst-hit countries.
TABLE 1/DATA SET 1
As the outbreak accelerates across Africa, most countries in the continents have shut down the schools partly/completely. However, around 870 million people have yet come online across the continent. Similarly, in Southern Asia, More than 1 billion are “unconnected”.
This is where other mediums of communication such as TVs, radios, etcetera come to the rescue. Or at least we think of it as a temporary solution. Radios are commonly found in households of Latin America and they are an imperative medium through which people are informed of the happenings in their milieu. But even then, it is the urban households compared to the low-income households that have a trouble-free way in obtaining the copious mediums of communications ranging from smartphones to laptops. Irrespective of belonging to a Western or an Eastern country, the digital divide is principally a battle between the urban and rural households.
Moreover when discussing the dispute at hand in terms of analysing how many households have access to TVs and radios, another concern arises which is in terms of how many people have access to electricity to ensure that these gadgets they use can function throughout the day. The focal point becomes the infrastructure here. Be it Smart TVs or regular TVs, Radio stations being heard on smartphones or owning a traditional radio, they function through the sole input of electricity.
TABLE 2 - ELECTRICITY
While the global average is 90%, less than half of the populations in selected countries have access to electricity in countries with the lowest access to electricity. All of them are in Africa.
Given the infrastructural differences, despite the best efforts put forward by both the public and private sector, the access to remote learning will always remain a distant dream for many leaving those without access to the same as technologically and educationally backward amongst their peers. From this, it is vital to comprehend that a single channel of remote learning is not the
pragmatic explanation for the challenge at hand.
Since this is the subject in question, what can be possibly done? Are there feasible solutions available? Luckily, yes.
As mentioned earlier, the education sector is perhaps one of the few industries that has swiftly responded to the pandemic. Yet, there is a mammoth scope for improvement which could possibly reduce the digital divide. Educational staff and ministries have been constantly involved in the policy formulation and implementation of remote learning, which was the prominent and quick answer for students after the shut down of institutes occurred globally and during the initial phases of lockdown were imposed.
Some of the measures to be implemented for decreasing the digital divide according to the UNICEF Report:
A. Multiple channels of deliverance
This can be accomplished through numerous ways. The government and other stakeholders need to participate to ensure the digital division is as minimal as possible. Some of the ways through which this is done is by not charging/ monetizing the internet/data usage, creating digital content while simultaneously providing easy access to the content created by subsidising all costs involved, especially for those belonging to the rural backgrounds with minimum access to the same.
A success model is currently occurring in Kerala, a State in India, where the State government has taken the initiative to teach students those without access to remote learning facilities such as high speed Wifi, laptops etcetera through TVs for students from kindergarten to high school levels. This was an initiative undertaken since the month of June and continues to be a victory.
As cited previously, usage of Radios became most effective in countries like Madagascar and Laos where the Governments of the respective countries were able to reach out to students and teach them through the medium of radios. Apart from TVs, radios and digital remote learning, a new concept of “Take-Home” packages were executed in several countries such as Jordan and Jamaica. The Take-Home packages are small kits consisting of educational and tutoring materials such as leaflets about the subjects, soft skills being taught mainly for the students and the caregivers.
These packages have come in handy not just for the students but also the parents as they are more in tune with the process of their child’s education and what they could possibly do to improve their child’s understanding of the subjects being taught. Moreover, a highlight to be noted here is that students with disabilities, specifically with hearing impairments, are not sidelined in the process. In countries like Morocco and Uzbekistan, the TVs provided teach these students with sign languages.
B. Train teachers, parents and all those involved in remote learning
The students are at the receiving end of education. They are being taught by their teachers, parents and all other significant ones that contribute to their learnings. It is critical that they stay at the top of their game as they are molding the future of the world. Teachers are constantly monitored and given training to outperform each time. The focal points are their strategies of presentation and incorporate novel methods of engaging with students virtually.
Apart from the teachers, the caregivers/parents/guardians influence and impact the understanding of the students. Hence, for those not educationally sound, they are supplied with educational materials that enhance them in comprehending what is being sown into the minds of the students. These are not always subject related. The caregivers are given the opportunity to make their children understand the pros and cons of online safety, cyber-bullying, cyber-harassment etcetera. This can also be termed as psychosocial support.
C. Feedback and monitoring
Feedback is a given in any process. In unprecedented times like these, gathering feedback is the stepping stone to success. It is essential that all those involved, especially the teachers are taking feedback from both their students and the caregivers of the students. Some of the lucid ways of gathering feedback are through the traditional forms of SMS although nowadays it is easier to collect feedback through Google Forms.
In some countries, the tactic on feedback is wholly novel. For instance, in Egypt, students have the new-fangled experience of registering themselves with the national knowledge bank of Egypt and henceforth the necessary steps from their end can be made to ensure a more qualitative educational experience. A very vital aspect to this is the morals and ethics. When the process of data collection occurs, in no way should it harm or exploit the individual/student submitting the feedback. It should not backfire the student even for a microsecond.
D. Prioritize and execute
Since backward areas are permanently at a loss when not given its due attention, it is the top-most priority for authorities responsible to guarantee to the people, especially in this context the students, that they are stepping towards attaining remote learning. Infrastructural attention must be given to these backward communities. Some examples can be that of the ‘Generation Unlimited’ which is a partnership with the sole aim of delivering connectivity to schools from remote areas, initiating the decision of making domestic investments related to electricity and quality WiFi. Such solid verdicts are proficient to bring about actual changes that people envision and wish to experience in life. Hence, both the governmental and non-governmental organizations involved must cooperate with one another to be the action-takers and deliver results.