By Sean Connick | Published: 2nd August 2023
In today's interconnected world, digital education is quickly becoming as fundamental to education as the three Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic). However, developing nations often encounter significant challenges in establishing and maintaining the necessary digital infrastructure for effective digital education delivery. We recognize that teaching in the real world is important, special, and exists but we advocate for digital education alongside or where a real-world provision does not exist. In this article, we look at the difficulty of providing digital education in some countries and explore some of the amazing efforts being made to address this imbalance.
Roughly 3.6 billion people, approximately half of the world's population, remain without internet access. Globally, nearly one-third of students (around 463 million) face challenges in accessing remote learning due to either the absence of online learning policies or the lack of necessary equipment to connect from their homes. Additionally, a significant number of students lack the essential connectivity, devices, and digital skills required to access and utilize technology-dependent educational content effectively.
A recent UNICEF report on the development of Digital Education since the global COVID-19 pandemic has revealed several trends across various countries. Here are the key findings from the report:
Limited Offline Functionality:
Approximately half of the world's population still lacks internet access.
Surprisingly, more than 70 percent of digital platforms do not offer offline functionality, making it difficult for students to access educational content without an internet connection.
In high-income countries, only 49 percent of platforms can operate offline, while in low-income countries, the figure drops significantly to just 18 percent.
Lack of Engaging Content:
Despite the importance of interactive and student-focused learning, a majority (67 percent) of digital platforms do not provide engaging content.
Instead, many platforms offer only static content, such as videos and PDFs of textbooks, limiting the scope for interactive and dynamic learning experiences.
Limited Accessibility for Children with Disabilities:
Only 22 percent of digital learning platforms include features that make them accessible to children with disabilities.
Even among these few platforms, the provisions for accessibility are essential, such as closed captions for videos, indicating a need for greater inclusivity.
A significant positive aspect is that 85 percent of platforms were found to be mobile-friendly.
This is particularly important because mobile devices are the most commonly available modality for digital learning in low- and middle-income countries.
The majority (84 percent) of digital learning platforms offer features using all of a country's national languages, ensuring that language barriers do not hinder access to education.
While the report shows progress in digital education, it also highlights critical areas that require attention and improvement. Enhancing offline functionality, ensuring engaging content, and prioritizing accessibility for children with disabilities are essential steps toward achieving more inclusive and effective digital education worldwide. Additionally, continuing to support mobile-friendly platforms and multilingual content will contribute to broader access and quality education for learners in diverse settings and backgrounds.
Examples of solutions
Recent global collaborations have led to notable advancements in the provision of Digital Education, exemplified by programs like "Gateways 2 Learning." This initiative, undertaken in collaboration with governments, NGOs, and private companies, aims to integrate digital technology and virtual environments as essential components of the educational enterprise in developing nations.
The strategy's focus begins with the prioritization of digital infrastructure development. By closely working with governments and private entities, Gateways 2 Learning invests in expanding digital connectivity to ensure adequate access to digital technology for students and educators in developing regions.
A vital aspect of the program involves localized content creation. Collaborating with NGOs and educational institutions, Gateways 2 Learning designs and adapts educational materials to suit the specific contexts and languages of targeted regions. This approach enhances the relevance and accessibility of learning content for students in underserved areas.
Recognizing the vital role of educators in digital transformation, Gateways 2 Learning conducts comprehensive training programs. These programs aim to enhance the digital literacy and pedagogical skills of teachers, empowering them to effectively integrate digital technology into their teaching methods, resulting in dynamic and engaging learning experiences.
Inclusivity and accessibility stand at the forefront of this initiative. Gateways 2 Learning prioritizes ensuring that the digital technologies and virtual learning environments developed through this strategy are accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. This concerted effort aims to overcome potential barriers and promote an inclusive educational experience for all learners.
Another project that has been implemented and has achieved success is the Fasaha Zamani project, implemented for the Abdou-Moumouni University (UAM) of Niamey, which has demonstrated remarkable success in supporting students. Its primary objective is to enhance the resilience of higher education in Niger. The project has a focused approach to creating a conducive environment that encompasses technological, pedagogical, regulatory, and economic aspects, all geared toward fostering the development of digital education. Through this well-structured endeavour, the project aims to seamlessly integrate and advance digital learning methods within the higher education system in Niger. As a result, it empowers students, enabling them to access quality education and fostering their academic growth and achievements.
Developing nations face challenges in establishing digital infrastructure for education. Innovative solutions offer hope for advancing digital education and empowering learners. Collaboration among governments, institutions, private entities, and organizations is crucial for realizing the transformative potential of digital education in the developing world. Digital Education empowers teachers to make a difference in their students' lives, enhancing the learning experience and preparing students for the modern world. Bridging the digital divide creates a more inclusive and equitable global education landscape.
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