Internet Use
Long considered the means by which the democratization of information would be achieved, the internet is increasingly becoming a platform where wealth disparities are made evident. According to a report released in July 2016 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the quality of internet use among students seems to be influenced by socioeconomic status.

The OECD report, which studied teenage students’ time spent online, highlighted the so-called “digital divide” that exists between their respective, qualitative internet use. In addition to this, the report found that despite having equal access, which theoretically should imply equal opportunity and success, poor students were less likely to know about or take advantage of the myriad benefits internet access affords.

Interestingly, in 21 out of the 42 countries from which data was collected, poor students actually spent more time online than wealthier students. Wealthy students, according to the study, spend their time online reading the news and learning. “But disadvantaged students may not be aware of how technology can offer opportunities to learn about the world, practice new skills or develop [professional plans or internet-based communication opportunities],” according to the OECD report.

The report noted that internet use among rich and poor students is strongly correlated with more general academic performance measures. It appears that the problem of ignorance about internet benefits both perpetuates and is perpetuated by lack of education.

A separate, unrelated study by the London School of Economics, published in February 2016, showed that people of the “higher social status” (wealthier and more educated people) benefited from their time spent online. “To some extent, the findings suggest that access to and use of the internet might exacerbate existing inequalities offline,” the study’s author remarked.

The OECD report noted that work aimed at ending these disparities is underway but that far more needs to be accomplished in order to make a difference.

One related effort attempting to tackle the issue of internet access is the Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act, which is currently making its way through Congress. This legislation is designed to bring internet access to the 60 percent of the world that is currently offline.

Though not directly related to efforts to leveling the playing field among people who are already online, the Digital GAP Act should have indirect but related benefits, as its passing will mean wider dissemination of internet education.

James Collins

Photo: Flickr

Education for Syrian RefugeesA new set of academic scholarships is helping to provide post-secondary education for Syrian refugees.

Jusoor is an organization dedicated to addressing the educational needs of those affected by the civil war in Syria. To date, the organization offers over 390 scholarships and has funded 74 students. The majority of scholarships they offer are university partnerships, such as with the University of Cambridge, Oxford, and the London School of Economics.

The organization itself is comprised of Syrian expatriates who believe in the importance of offering opportunities for the youth in their native country. They hope this initiative will help support the country’s development and help it overcome its unique challenges.

According to their website, the volunteers at Jusoor “hope for a nation that embraces democracy, respects human rights and rule of law and encourages free speech and the exchange of ideas.”

Education for refugees is important not just in Syria, but around the world. According to the U.N. Refugee agency, education is a basic human right, defined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

However, of the 10 million refugees under the age of 18, less than half have access to the education they need. Often, education can provide a safe and stable environment where none else is offered, fostering healthy relationships and teaching life-saving information.

Most recently, Jusoor partnered with universities in Canada for their 100 Syrian Women program, which focuses particularly on offering scholarships to Syrian women. This gives them the opportunity to study abroad when they would not have otherwise had it. So far, out of 900 applicants, 26 women have received scholarships, and the organization hopes to go much further than that.

In an interview with The Star, Leen Al Zaibak, co-director and co-founder of Jusoor, said “we feel if we invest in women, it is a huge investment in the community. The 100 women who benefit from this opportunity are going to affect the lives of 10,000 other Syrians.”

In addition to their scholarship programs, Jusoor runs three primary and middle schools for Syrian children in Lebanon to provide further education for Syrian refugees.

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Student World Online