Coronavirus – Africa: Startling digital divides in distance learning emerge

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Half of the total number of learners – some 826 million students – kept out of the classroom by the COVID-19 pandemic, do not have access to a household computer and 43% (706 million) have no internet at home, at a time when digitally-based distance learning is used to ensure educational continuity in the vast majority of countries.

These figures were compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO, on the basis of data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the International Telecommunication Union.

Disparities are particularly acute in low-income countries: in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 per cent of learners do not have access to household computers and 82% lack internet access. 

Furthermore, while mobile phones can enable learners access to information, connect with their teachers and with one another, about 56 million learners live in locations not served by mobile networks, almost half in sub-Saharan Africa. 

“While efforts to provide connectivity to all must be multiplied, we now know that continued teaching and learning cannot be limited to online means”, stated Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General. “To lessen already existing inequalities, we must also support other alternatives including the use of community radio and television broadcasts, and creativity in all ways of learning. These are solutions we are addressing with our Global Coalition partners”. 

Globally, at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary and secondary teachers are affected by the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with school closures in 191 countries.

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. For teachers in regions where ICT and other distance methodologies are less available, the transition has been even more difficult or impossible.

Teachers also require training to deliver distance and online education effectively, but such support is particularly scarce in low-income countries. Across sub-Saharan Africa, just 64% of primary and 50% of secondary teachers have received minimum training, and this frequently does not include ICT skills.

“These inequalities are a real threat to learning continuity at a time of unprecedented educational disruption,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education. “Addressing these gaps was the impetus for launching the Covid-19 Global Education Coalition, which brings together more than 90 public and private sector partners, to develop universal and equitable solutions, and make the digital revolution inclusive.” 

The Global Education Coalition includes the International Telecommunication Union and key groups that support teachers, such as Education International, the GEMS-Varkey Foundation, the International Labour Organization and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, which recently released a Call for Action to support teachers affected by the pandemic.

UNESCO held its fifth Covid-19 Educational Response Webinar on Friday 17 April to share country experiences in distance education learning strategies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Seehttps://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/webinars for information about the webinars. 

See also the Joint Statement of the International Commission on the Futures of Education.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


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