Remote learning, or the process of acquiring knowledge and skills through a program accessible through mobile or computer technologies, has the ability to expand access to education throughout the developing world.

Provided in the form of online lectures, quizzes and projects, online course material may allow large numbers of students worldwide to gain access to a world-class education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

The number of students not enrolled in school has been rising in recent years, often due to poverty, conflict or financial issues. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 124 million children between the ages of six and 15 were not enrolled in school as of 2013, up from 122 million in 2011. One out of every 11 primary-school-age children continues to be denied the right to education across the globe.

According to the Gates Foundation’s 2015 annual letter, remote learning will revolutionize education for people around the world by 2030 by giving citizens in impoverished areas educational opportunities that were previously inaccessible.

“Before a child even starts primary school, she will be able to use her mom’s smartphone to learn her numbers and letters, giving her a big head start,” Bill Gates said in the letter. “She will collaborate with teachers and other students in a much richer way. If she is learning a new language, she’ll be able to speak out loud and the software will give her feedback on her pronunciation.”

Educational access has always been a significant issue in developing and poverty-stricken areas. Students are limited when it comes to the classes and materials offered at the schools in their own communities. Digital education gives students within these developing or conflict-marred regions the ability to access educational materials.

In areas without significant funding for building heavy infrastructure, children would still be able to access education without traveling hours to schools in nearby communities. A shift to digital materials for use in learning courses also saves a significant amount of money for communities that may be struggling to provide educational materials such as textbooks.

Due to the lowering cost of mobile phones and tablets with online connectivity, technology is connecting students with teachers like never before. While many areas still lack service, Internet access and communications technologies have rapidly been emerging and expanding in developing nations over the last several years. Google Inc. is currently planning to spend more than $1 billion to bring service to these communities and expand Internet access to unwired regions of the globe via small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The challenge of keeping children in school after primary school is tremendous, as the costs associated with secondary schooling are much higher, which is often difficult for families with lower income levels to afford. Also, secondary schooling facilities are often located farther away from rural communities, making transportation a challenge. Though online classes will never be able to replace a teacher, the technology may give children the ability to continue their education after primary school, while also pursuing other commitments.

Online education also has the ability to impart literacy skills and market-worthy training to adults who missed out on formal schooling opportunities when they were younger. It allows these individuals to pursue their education in their spare time by fitting in learning after they work a day job, provide for their families or while they are in between jobs or unemployed.

One organization,, an online education site providing e-learning platforms to more than two million subscribers worldwide, currently provides access to over 80,000 instructional videos relating to job skills in areas such as retail, construction and graphic design.

Many concerns remain about the challenges mobile education may pose. The cost of electricity in developing areas, the cost of network use, and the constant risk of theft or damage to the devices the children use are all threats to the sustainability of remote learning. Though these challenges in the current implementation of online education in these communities persist, technological advancement in the field continues to progress.

Lauren Lewis

Sources: Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Gates Notes, The Verge, The Wall Street Journal, UNESCO 1, UNESCO 2
Photo: Google Images