As students around the world are returning to school after the summer break, the debate over whether or not in-person classes are a safe and sensible option in face of the COVID-19 pandemic is raging on. While those in favor of a regular return to school point out the limitations of remote learning, others fear that the risk of students getting together in often badly ventilated classrooms outweighs the benefits of in-person classes.
And while the debate is loudest in countries such as the United States, where remote learning is a real option, it’s important to remember that large parts of the world don’t have the privilege of arguing about the pros and cons of digital learning. According to a recent UNICEF report, at least 460 million students across the globe cannot be reached with remote learning programs, because they simply lack access to the necessary devices or infrastructure.
“Globally, at least 31 per cent of students from pre-primary to upper secondary schools cannot be reached due to either a lack of policies supporting digital and broadcast remote learning or a lack of the household assets needed to receive digital or broadcast instruction,” the report says, with Africa and South Asia the least prepared for prolonged school closures.
As the following chart shows, the youngest students are most likely to be cut off from remote learning opportunities, as two out of three pre-primary students cannot be reached. In purely numerical terms, the problem is most pronounced at the primary school level, where more than 200 million students lack access to remote learning tools.