Surprising disparities in digital learning emerge as COVID-19 spreads: United Nations education agency |

They found that half of all students currently outside the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners worldwide – do not have access to a computer. In addition, over 40 percent do not have access to the Internet at home.

The figures were compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO, using data from the United Nations agency’s Institute for Statistics and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“These inequalities pose a real threat to the continuity of learning at a time of unprecedented educational disruption,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education.

Classes closed in 191 countries

The COVID-19[female[feminine The pandemic has forced the closure of schools in 191 countries, affecting at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary and secondary teachers.

Disparities in distance education are particularly evident in low-income countries. Almost 90 percent of students in sub-Saharan Africa do not have home computers while 82 percent cannot log on.

And although having a cell phone can help young learners to access information or connect with their teachers, for example, around 56 million live in areas that are not served by mobile networks; almost half in sub-Saharan Africa.

Teachers are also struggling with the rapid transition to e-learning, even in countries with reliable infrastructure and home connectivity. They must also be trained to provide distance and online education. Once again, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest challenges.

Coalition for action

“As efforts to provide connectivity for all need to be scaled up, we now know that lifelong teaching and learning cannot be limited to online means,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.

“To reduce existing inequalities, we must also support other alternatives, including the use of community radio and television broadcasts, and creativity in all modes of learning.

At the end of March, UNESCO and its partners launched the Global Coalition for Education develop solutions to make digital learning more inclusive. The goals include helping countries mobilize resources to provide distance education through high-tech, low-tech, and non-tech approaches.

The Coalition is made up of 90 public and private partners, including the ITU, sister agency of the United Nations, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other entities that support teachers.

UNESCO organizes weekly webinars on the educational dimension of the pandemic, with participants from all over the world.

Although the webinars cover different topics, they will all look at strategies to maintain the continuity of education, especially for disadvantaged children and youth, and to ensure that all students can return to class when schools reopen.

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