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Education and

Digital Divide

Key message

Advancements in technology make it possible to learn in remote corners of the globe without physically going to school.


Mobile phones, broadband and online communities have made it possible to share information and ideas, and learn in new ways. Investing in inclusive digital access – and getting every school and student equipped to be online – will dramatically expand educational opportunities. It will also create more resilient education systems capable of hybrid online and offline learning during crises and generate more opportunities to reach marginalised children and young people who are most likely to be left behind.
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Key challenges
  • In the poorest countries, household access to the internet is extremely limited. In the least developed countries, only 12% of households have internet access at home
    (GEM, 2020).
  • There are large gender and rural gaps in access to the internet. Women are 17% less likely than men to use the internet in the Arab States and Asia and 25% less likely in Africa
    (GEM, 2020).
  • The gender gap in the digital divide is more pronounced in poorer countries. Girls and women are 23% less likely than boys and men to be able to use mobile internet in low and middle-income countries
    (Save the Children, 2020).
  • Young people are more likely to use digital tools for education and skill building. They are twice as likely as adults to self-study or seek online training for digital skills acquisition
    (GEM, 2020).
  • Many countries are showing what is possible with digital connectivity. Korea has rolled out fast connectivity to all schools, Uruguay is on track to connect all schools, and China is expanding full broadband coverage by 2020 with a particular priority on connecting poor schools
    (Education Commission, 2016; ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission, 2015).
  • The digital divide affects all countries. About 14% of US households with school-age children do not have internet access
    (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2018).
  • Teachers are concerned about the digital divide impacting on equity. 84% of teachers fear technology is widening the gap between affluent and disadvantaged schools and districts. Nearly one in five students said they had trouble completing homework because of internet access
    (Pew Research Center, 2013).
  • Access to devices and connectivity at home impacts on outcomes. Even before Covid-19, about one in five (17%) of teenagers aged 13 to 17 in the US said they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection
    (Pew Research Center, 2018).
  • The pandemic has shed light on the persistent digital divide in Latin American households. Only 34% of primary, 41% of secondary and 68% of tertiary education students have access to an internet-connected computer at home. Studying online is difficult for students from poor and vulnerable households
    (OECD Development Matters, 2020).
  • Distance learning rates are linked to household income. Only 60% of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction, compared with 90% of high-income students
    (Dorn et al., 2020).
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Key opinion
Nasser Siabi
Nasser Siabi
CEO of Microlink
The global education gap can finally be addressed in a meaningful way through improved communication. One problem has been getting talented teachers into remote or impoverished areas. Covid-19 has shown us that teachers can be seen and heard across the world from any location. Why not harness the power of the world’s best teachers and make them available to everyone? It’s a workable idea because we also have technology that accurately translates speech into most languages. This could be used both for training teachers and for directly teaching students. The only limits are electricity, imagination, and our will.
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Key talking points
  • Advancements in technology make it possible to learn in remote corners of the globe without physically going to school.
  • The recent global pandemic has exposed wide inequities in access and learning based on limited connectivity.
  • Closing the digital divide is essential to providing universal access to high-quality and inclusive learning opportunities.
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