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Online education on the rise widens digital divide

June 15th, 2020
topic:Digitalisation
by:Ndubuaku Kanayo
located in:Kenya, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda
tags:COVID-19

"We are facing an unusual situation with a large number of countries affected by the same issue at the same time.", says UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini as the coronavirus lockdown has exacerbated inequalities in education. African youths remain the least connected as around 60% have no existing digital footprint.

Like an unexpected windstorm, the COVID-19 pandemic surprised students, parents and teachers alike — as the health crises disrupted schooling for over 1.3 billion students worldwide — moving learning from classrooms to private homes.

With homeschooling situations and distance learning taking centre stage, the advent of digital technology has introduced new ways of learning.

While narrating her experience, Mrs Akin, an educator and a mother of two in Lagos, Nigeria, recounts how homeschooling and the use of digital technology, improved the monitoring of her children's education during the lockdown period.

"Their school has been engaging them online, and I think it's working, because the teachers can give them feedback, follow up on them, attend to their questions and make necessary corrections", she divulged.

According to her, homeschooling is effective as it gives room for parental control and supervision, "Everything is not about academics, this lockdown period has provided me with the opportunity of monitoring and supervising their school work while also enabling me to get involved in their behavioural development", she stated.

She concluded by saying that "In the absence of classroom learning, the online learning platform is effective, although you can't downplay the importance of classroom interactions in learning".

Online learning versus offline classroom education

Just as key insights from the science of learning and development reveal how children develop intelligence and capacity, platforms like Kio-Kit have since designed educational content in new engaging ways, teaching students in low income countries using preloaded wireless tablets.

Similarly, Eneza, an educational content provider, operating in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Ghana, has leveraged low cost mobile technology to deliver class contents, quizzes and other assessments, in line with the standard national curriculum.

But then, a study emanating from the National Bureau of economic research disclosed that instructional classroom time benefits skill acquisition and human development. The study surveyed data samples from over 500 countries and discovered that additional instructional time in classrooms positively impacted test scores.

Victor Chaim Lavy, an Israeli economist and professor at the University of Warwick in his work, "Do Differences in Schools' Instruction Time Explain International Achievement Gaps? Evidence from Developed and Developing Countries," revealed how instructional classroom time contributed to test scores, even as this effect remained much lower in developing countries.

Conversely, a recent Udemy Report indicated a surge in global online education, with an increase in business growth courses, as more people try to gain knowledge to boost productivity in the face of the global pandemic.

Furthermore, the uncertainties around the future of work, coupled with the increasing application of technology in education is fast reshaping existing learning models. Even as Professor Tomarken, a lecturer of advanced statistics and method noted how the incorporation of computers into class discussions could make difficult subjects easier for students to grasp.

In his words, one of the challenges of teaching advanced statistics to students who often lack a strong Math background is “translating theoretical stuff into a workable set of concrete analysis, “Tomarken says. “I find that it’s really important to talk about different types of models from the point of view of specific problems and that’s really where the ability in class to have stuff be on the projection system is critical.” he concluded.

Also, a state of video education report surveyed educational professionals, students and other relevant stakeholders, and revealed how the fusion of video technology into learning processes could aid personalised learning and increase students satisfaction.

As contained in the report, 98% of the respondents see video playing an important role in classroom learning, as 82% of the students insisted on the inclusion of videos to their learning experiences.

Additionally, 91% of educational institutions surveyed in the report attested to how the use of videos in classroom learning improved students' awareness and satisfaction.

Research from the central Queensland university also lends credence to the use of digital technology to improve academic productivity, as it portrays how the use of AI enabled chat box could enhance learning, provide efficient teaching assistance, while also minimizing ambiguity in student-teacher interactions.

Closing up the digital divide

While digital technology can provide students with opportunities to learn in different ways, these new shifts in approach could also widen inequality gaps.

The Coronavirus lockdown has since exacerbated inequalities even as a recent study affirmed a significant relationship between family income and the quality of education available to children in rural Uganda.

As stated in a study conducted by a US-based education non-profit Minerva Project, and published by the World Economic Forum, new solutions for education could bring forth innovations, while also widening inequality gaps.

According to Simom Burgess, professor of economics at the University of Bristol, the coronavirus lockdown is expected to bring unequal disruptions in students' learning and assessment, with the crisis affecting students and families unequally.

In the words of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, "We are facing an unusual situation with a large number of countries affected by the same issue at the same time. We need to come together not only to address the immediate educational consequences of this unprecedented crisis, but to build up the longer-term resilience of education systems", she concluded.

Conrad Hughes, the Campus & Secondary School Principal, La Grande Boissière, International School of Geneva while highlighting the inequalities in the global education system dating back 200 hundred years ago called for a modification of the curriculum and contact time to ensure that students concentrate and stay engaged during and after the pandemic.

But even at that, digital access has become the new divide, as data from the United Nations Children fund, (UNICEF) reveals that about 29% of youth worldwide — around 346 million — are yet to come online. According to the report, over one third of all internet users are made up of children and young adults, with a paltry number residing in developing countries. Already, families with low disposable income — low internet penetration — and a high illiteracy rate, stand at the receiving end.

The report further revealed that African youths remain the least connected as around 60% have no existing digital footprint, compared with 4% of their European counterparts.

As stated by the Internet World Statistics, an estimated number of around 526 million people have access to the internet in Africa, in contrast to over 4 billion plus internet subscribers worldwide, a margin way below the global average.

Unequal access to technology tools remains an impediment towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDG's) by 2030, as quality education raises consciousness about existing inequalities, while setting the agenda for equal legislation and social programs for all citizens of the world.

While speaking at the World information society day, secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, disclosed how digital technology, an essential tool of the 21st century can be leveraged - towards the fight against COVID-19 and the achievement of the SDG's.

"Information technology can be a beacon of hope, allowing billions of people around the world to connect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these connections are more important than ever” he stated.

Consequently, a report by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, titled the “Learning Generation” has called for increased educational spending in low- and middle-income countries from approximately $1.25 trillion per year to nearly $3 trillion yearly to attain the SDG's on or before 2030.

Article written by:
Ndubuaku Kanayo
Ndubuaku Kanayo
Author
Kenya Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) Ghana Nigeria Uganda
African youths remain the least connected as around 60% have no existing digital footprint.
"In the absence of classroom learning, the online learning platform is effective, although you can't downplay the importance of classroom interactions in learning".
A recent Udemy Report indicated a surge in global online education, with an increase in business growth courses, as more people try to gain knowledge to boost productivity in the face of the global pandemic.