With most of the world’s students now at home due to COVID-19, the pandemic is revealing startling divides
in digitally-based distance learning, data from the UN education and cultural agency, UNESCO, and partners has revealed.
They found that half of all students currently out of the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners globally -- do not
have access to a computer. Additionally, more than 40 per cent have no Internet access at home.
The figures were compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO
, using data from the UN agency’s Institute for Statistics and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU
“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.Classrooms closed in 191 nations
pandemic has forced school closures in 191 countries, affecting at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary
and secondary teachers.
Disparities in distance education are particularly evident in low-income countries. Nearly 90 per cent of students in
sub-Saharan Africa do not have household computers while 82 per cent are unable to get online.
And although having a mobile phone can support young learners, in accessing information or connecting with their
teachers, for example, around 56 million live in areas that are not served by mobile networks; almost half in
Teachers also are struggling with the rapid transition to online learning, even those in countries with reliable
infrastructure and household connectivity. They also need to be trained to deliver distance and online education. Again,
countries in sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest challenges.Coalition for action
“While efforts to provide connectivity to all must be multiplied, we now know that continued teaching and learning
cannot be limited to online means”, said 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.”
In late March, UNESCO and partners launched the Global Educational Coalition
to develop solutions to make digital learning more inclusive. Objectives include helping countries to mobilize
resources to provide remote education through hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches.
The Coalition consists of 90 public and private partners which include the ITU, sister UN agency the International
Labour Organization (ILO
), and other entities which support teachers.
UNESCO has been holding weekly webinars on the educational dimension of the pandemic, with participants coming from
across the globe.
While the webinars address different topics, they will all consider strategies to maintain education continuity,
especially for underprivileged children and young people, and to ensure that all students can return to the classroom
when schools re-open.