As the COVID-19 pandemic persists around the world, it is important to examine how life has changed over the past year and a half. COVID-19’s educational impact is one area that deserves attention because education is a key in the fight against global poverty. Low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries across the world have significant poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many challenges that one can associate with poverty, including obtaining an education. However, despite the challenges, COVID-19’s educational impact on LMICs should benefit from cutting-edge technological solutions. These technologies are changing how the poor receive an education.
COVID-19’s Educational Impact
Save the Children has estimated that even before the pandemic, the world was in a “learning emergency” with more than half of the children in LMICs designated as “learning poor” before they are 10 years old. Since COVID-19 school closures have left many children unable to access remote learning, COVID-19’s educational impact has included an increase in “learning poverty.” Save the Children has said that as of 2021, more than 11 million additional children are among the learning poor.
The economic hardship that has come as a result of the pandemic is negatively impacting education in a major way. As tax revenues have declined, budget cuts are leaving an estimated $77 billion gap in education spending for impoverished children around the world. Save the Children estimated that 10 million children may have dropped out of school for good in 2020. Meanwhile, the students who have managed to remain in school are at an increased risk of having to repeat grades and fall behind due to the pandemic.
Through the pandemic, girls have often had to drop out to marry early and boys have had to leave school to find work. Save the Children has pointed out that school closures have not only had an impact on education losses, but it has also take safe spaces away from children so that they “can play with friends, have meals and access to health services.”
Creative Technological Solutions to Alleviate “Learning Poverty”
A 2021 United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) study estimates that more than 2 billion, or two-thirds of those under age 25, lack internet access at home. New technology solutions bring hope in low-bandwidth areas to help sustain some access to education and skills training.
The World Bank has highlighted downloadable content, mobile vans and low-cost hardware as strong low-bandwidth education solutions. Learners who do not have access to a reliable internet connection can download libraries of content and access them offline. If learners are in a remote area and face high transportation costs, mobile vans can bring an education anywhere. Also, these vans with mobile internet access and computers meet learners at their precise learning levels and provide courses that allow learners to gain skills in a matter of weeks. Low-cost hardware is available to give more learners access to computers. One group providing such hardware is the Raspberry Pi Foundation. A simple USB charger powers the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s small computer that runs a free operating system.
COVID-19’s educational impact has exacerbated existing problems to educate learners in LMICs. On the other hand, while the “learning poverty” alarm is sounding around the world, new creative solutions bring hope to meet these challenges. Technology will continue to be important to education in its fight against global poverty.
– Alex Muckenfuss
Photo: Wikipedia Commons