By MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
Invest to Bridge Digital Divide asCOVID-19 Exposes Remote Learning Inequalities Among Children, Report Urges Countries
The lockdown measure taken to prevent spread of Novel CoronaVirus disease (COVID-19) which necessitated virtual learning has exposed gross digital inequalities among Children.
“At least a third of the world’s school children – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shuttered their schools,” a new United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report disclosed.
The report was published on 27th August 2020 as countries across the world grapple with their back-to-school plans.
The report while outlining the limitations of electronic learning (e-learning) and exposing deep inequalities in access, noted: “At the height of nationwide and local lockdowns, around 1.5 billion school children were affected by school closures.”
In West and Central Africa 54 million children, representing 48 per cent of minimum number of school children, were unable to access remote learning during COVID-19 lockdowns, UNICEF reported.
UNICEF’s Reimagine Campaign therefore called on countries to urgently invest to bridge the digital divide, reach every child with remote learning, and most critically prioritize the safe reopening of schools.
“The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global emergency. The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come,” UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said.
According to UNICEF in a statement dated 27th August 2020, school children in sub-Saharan Africa were the most affected, where at least half of all students could not be reached with remote learning.
School children from the poorest households and those living in rural areas were by far the most that missed out during the closures, the UN agency said.
Challenges and limitations to online learning for young children, lack of remote learning programmes for this category of, and lack of home assets for remote learning were responsible for the inability to reach those in the category of pre-primary-age school children, UNICEF observed.
It therefore urged governments to incorporate compensatory learning for lost instructional time in school continuity and reopening plans.
UNICEF advised that “school opening policies and practices include expanding access to education, especially for marginalized groups,” and stressed that “education systems must also be adapted and built to withstand future crises.”