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The digital divide, the biggest obstacle to online education

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  • There is an invisible reality, in which half the world is disconnected and has no access to a computer or no internet connection in their home. 
  • Online education did not develop homogeneously during the early confinement days of the current pandemic, in fact the digital divide became evident. 

 

Connectivity where and for whom? 

 

2020, a year in which future advances in innovation and technology have accelerated to such an extent that they have become essential. We have heard it many times, but it is true: the pandemic experienced globally has acted as a catalyst for digital transformation. What was a simple theory has become a necessity for companies, public institutions, workers, students and teachers. 

 

Many were quick to compare the 2020 pandemic with that experienced in 1918, especially to emphasize how technology and connectivity has allowed the world to keep going. In the field of education many countries stated that their students continued with the planned program, without endangering their health and keeping their distance from home. However, this was not a universal reality, digitalization of education was not lived the same in Spain as in Somalia, for example. 

 

A digital divide invisible to those who do not suffer it 

 

There is a widespread idea that the digital advantages have allowed us to face the Covid-19 in a less painful way for social,  economic and educational aspects. However, there is an invisible reality, in which half the world is disconnected and has no access to a computer or no internet  connection in their home. 

 

According to UNESCO, globally, 826 million children without classes  due to the pandemic did not have access to computers in their homes. The incidence of this digital divide in education is much higher in developing countries, in Sub-Saharan Africa 82% of students lack internet access. 

 

Contrary to popular belief, this is also the case in more digitalised societies, which are not exempt from these inequalities. In Spain, a country with a good network infrastructure, it is estimated that 10% of the 8.2 million Spanish general education students cannot follow classes online; a key gap to fight and reduce. 

 

How can the digital divide in education be combated? 

 

It is clear that this is a very complex social challenge, we must bet on a real digital society with citizens and professionals with digital skills and abilities. If anything this crisis has made clear that huge digital gaps exist, the pandemic has made it clear that there is no widespread access of students to the internet to apply distance education efficiently. 

 

The solution involves digital collaboration between the various stakeholders, in short, it is the most effective response to address the complexity of this digital divide. The collaboration of different sectors opens up the possibility of jointly designing and implementing relevant initiatives based on a deep knowledge of the socio-economic context. 

 

 

Precisely to answer this question and to tackle the problem, UNESCO has created the Global Coalition for Education Covid-19, which brings together more than 90 partners from the public and private sectors. Among the members who are part of the coalition: “international telecommunications union” or others such as the Varkey Foundation, the International Labor Organization or the International Working Team on Teachers for Education 2030. In addition, in Spain an alliance named HAZ, has emerged, it is formed by foundations and companies with extensive experience in the field of education, which aims to create solutions for new education.