The growing importance of technology to make education truly equitable

Three GPE youth leaders share their thoughts on the impact of technology on education during COVID, the opportunities it provided, and the challenges of the digital divide.

May 12, 2022 by Armel Azihar Sly-vania, IMARA Comoros, Maryjacob Okwuosa, and Zubair Junjunia
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4 minutes read
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Kikwit, Kwilu province. When her school was closed because of the coronavirus, Nelvy continued to study thanks to the radio and increased her motivation to learn. When schools re-opened their doors, Nelvy’s listening club continued to get together regularly. “Following lessons on the radio is useful because it allows us to anticipate future subjects, or to better learn others,” affirms Nelvy.
Kikwit, Kwilu province. When her school was closed because of the coronavirus, Nelvy continued to study thanks to the radio and increased her motivation to learn. When schools re-opened their doors, Nelvy’s listening club continued to get together regularly. “Following lessons on the radio is useful because it allows us to anticipate future subjects, or to better learn others,” affirms Nelvy.
Credit: UNICEF/UN0473539/Mulala

For many of us young people and students, degrees conducted exclusively on chalkboards or white boards had to go online overnight when COVID broke out. Curricula that had never been digitized had to transition swiftly. Century-old universities sometimes had to change from the old pen and paper exams to new modes of assessment.

The ensuing lockdowns have shaken years of precedence and resulted in a global shift in how our education systems work. It has also brought to light and exposed the many cracks that have existed in our systems. While technology played an essential role to keep things running, it also exacerbated inequalities in education, especially for those beyond the digital divide - leaving them likely to be left behind even further.

Differences in digital access increased inequality

For many of us, technology was more like magic than reality. For Armel, growing up in Comoros, accessing the internet meant traveling to the capital city to use a cyber cafe. This slowed down learning and kept only a few privileged students with information and knowledge. And Maryjacob in Nigeria studied computer science for years without ever accessing a computer – it was all just theory and books. These are still the realities of many children in Comoros, Nigeria, and across many other parts of the world.

Yet for many in countries with greater access to technology, the past two years also showed how technology can play a major role in education to democratize access and allow more inclusivity. Content and knowledge that had remained inaccessible except for a select few are now accessible at incredible scale.

And most of all, the new tools allowed those who were previously left behind to be included, whether it was through closed captions in lectures, accessibility features, or simply the ability to access things from anywhere. Students with different learning abilities, those with a chronic illness, young people who need to care for others, and many more - each of them previously left out to fend for themselves now at least had a chance.

For millions of other children and young people, education’s reliance on technology during COVID further reduced their access, rather than increase it. Admittedly, there was a huge gap in education access before the pandemic, children in rural areas and from low-income families, especially girls, were less likely to be able to access either education or technology. These factors played an important role in the huge divide created by digitizing education.

As a result, digitized and democratized education for some learners meant weeks and months of no learning at all. With increased reliance on technology for distance learning, the inequality gaps broadened, leaving many children, especially girls, even more behind.

As schools reopened, many students who had not been able to access education were expected to participate in the same national and regional exams as their more privileged counterparts who had been learning during school closures.

Students returned from the pandemic break feeling unprepared and uncertain. A parent from a school club that Maryjacob works with in Nigeria, did not register their 2 children for the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, worried that they had not learnt enough to sit for the exam.

Building on the lessons from the pandemic for better education for all

There's an urgent need for state actors and duty bearers to properly bridge the existing gaps in education. This means considering the range of technology options available to ensure children can continue learning even when not physically in school. Low-tech solutions such as radio and SMS may be perfectly suited to contexts where there is no infrastructure or financing to support expanding high-tech access in a way that is fair and equitable.

Child writing in his holiday notebook
Child writing in his holiday notebook
Credit:
Armel Azihar Sly-vania

We encourage learning with radios, workbooks, and printed media for children who are not able to go to school. Armel and her NGO IMARA Comoros created Holiday Notebooks to level the playing field for every child she worked with. Each book had different subjects and games according to the ages of the learners. The books were interactive and exciting, and helped engage parents in their children’s education.

As we adapt to living with this pandemic, we must remember not to look back, but instead take the learnings from the past two years to create a better future for all. We must work to ensure access to education for all children and young people, regardless of gender, location, disabilities and responsibilities. Education for all means considering all solutions to keep children learning.

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ICT, Youth
Comoros, Nigeria

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Comments

I liked the blog on technology and education access during the Corona virus pandemic. As the author makes clear what matters is the study context and the audience situation. Technology and media are selected to fit the context and need. Work with what you have. See my edited book Yates, C. and Bradley, J. (Eds) (3000) Basic Education at a Distance London, Routledge. Last concluding chapter - for my conclusions over 20byears ago. Time for an update on distributed school learning - post pandemic?
Thanks for the nice blog.

Thanks for the blog. Good sensible advice

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