Guwahati: At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren are unable to access remote learning, as per a latest report by UNICEF. This is when the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered many educational institutions.
In the report, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said: “For at least 463 million children whose schools closed due to COVID-19, there was no such a thing as remote learning.” She added, “The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency. The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come.”
In South Asian countries alone, a total of 38% of schoolchildren were unable to access remote learning. This is about 147 million budding leaders of tomorrow. According to UNICEF, during the height of local and nationwide lockdowns (which started from March in India), approximately 1.5 billion schoolchildren were affected by the closing down of schools.
The report by UNICEF uses a globally representative analysis of various home-based technologies and tools that are used or rather needed for remote learning. The data of over 100 countries are compiled in the report which takes into perspective remote learning among pre-primary, lower-secondary, and upper-secondary school children. “Data include access to television, radio and internet, and the availability of curriculum delivered across these platforms during school closures,” the release stated.
Even though the data alone presents a concerning picture, UNICEF warns that the reality might even be more shocking. For even if there is easy access to all the technology for remote learning, not many can actually follow the same pattern of studies at home. This can be due to various factors like being forced to work at home, the pressure to do the daily chores, lack of support in using the online or broadcast curriculum, or even due to the poor environment for learning.
This is just for people who have access to remote learning. There remains a plethora more with no access to even the tools required for remote learning. Add on the natural disasters of flood, wildfires, and reality turns much grimmer. Schoolchildren belonging from the poorest households living in rural areas are unable to access any form of remote learning. News reports of parents selling their cows just to be able to buy a smartphone for their child to study gut-punches us.
“Globally, 72 per cent of schoolchildren unable to access remote learning live in their countries’ poorest households. In upper-middle-income countries, schoolchildren from the poorest households account for up to 86 per cent of students unable to access remote learning,” the report stated. Additionally, globally, three-quarters of schoolchildren without access live in rural areas.
120 million which is about 70% of schoolchildren of pre-primary-age suffers from no access to remote learning largely due to challenges and limitations to online learning for young children, lack of remote learning programs for this education category, and lack of home assets for remote learning. The case is even worse for primary schoolchildren as at least 29% which accounts for 217 million are unable to access remote learning. The case is similar for 78 million lower-secondary schoolchildren. Only upper-secondary schoolchildren are the least likely to miss out on remote learning with at least 18% which is 48 million.
Priority should be given to the safe re-opening of schools when governments across the world are beginning to ease down on lockdown norms. Places where re-opening is not possible UNICEF urges governments to incorporate compensatory learning for the lost instructional time into school continuity and reopening plans. “School opening policies and practices must include expanding access to education, including remote learning, especially for marginalized groups. Education systems must also be adapted and built to withstand future crises,” the release stated.
The report by UNICEF outlines the limitations of remote learning and exposes deep-rooted inequalities in access to education.