Most students work on the computers.Ministries of education around the world try to ensure learning continuity for children and youth through distance learning.
Nearly 1.5 billion students in more than 170 countries are no longer in schools, colleges and universities, their institutions having been closed by governments in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. In this context, education ministries around the world are now trying to ensure the continuity of learning through distance education. In most cases, this involves the use of digital platforms, such as Studymind.co.uk, and educational technology tools with the aim of making learning spaces as open and engaging as possible.
Online Education System Brings Breakthroughs
Paradox emerges everywhere; if the use of digital platforms seems to be able to minimize the enormous learning losses, especially among vulnerable students. At the same time, it risks at the same time further widening the inequalities among the students. During the closure of schools, inequalities in educational achievement and learning poverty worsen. Some students get benefit from a continuity of their learning when others are deprived of it.
The initial goal is to guarantee all students access to the Internet, the first dimension of the digital divide, to enable everyone to take advantage of the resources available online. But even in high-income countries, where internet access is almost universal and internet inequalities greatly reduced, the coronavirus crisis has revealed two little-known dimensions of the digital divide.
Obstacles in Leaning
On the one hand, the dimension linked to the capacity of users: without directives, students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are less able to exploit all the wealth of online media. At the same time, the dimension is linked to the degree of preparation of schools, namely the ability of each establishment to organize an individualized or adapted to the level of the pupils and progressive e-learning; to encourage students to use these tools and to monitor their attendance; and to assess progress to maximize learning outcomes. Thus, one institution can decide to send only printed materials or suggest to its students to consult videos for the general public while another is able to continue the courses at a distance or to invent solutions, thanks to digital applications, to organize collaborative learning and offer individualized support to students.
What the Heads of the Educational Institutions Say?
Since principals are in the best position to understand the situation in their school, we consulted their responses to the PISA 2018 survey (which included a questionnaire prepared for them by the Program for International Student Assessment, PISA) to know their opinion on the degree of preparedness – both of the institution and of the teachers, for the need to invent and manage distance learning experiences. While their responses may fuel a certain optimism, the overall picture they paint is nonetheless disappointing.
Do principals agree with the statement that effective platformsare available onlineto support learning?
In just over half of the education systems analysed, heads of educational institutions indicate that most of their 15-year-old students are educated in a structure that does not have an effective online learning support platform. This is the case for all participating Latin American and Caribbean countries, most countries in Europe and Central Asia (excluding the Baltic States, Turkey and Kazakhstan). All the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, except Qatar, not to mention a considerable proportion of high-income countries that are members of the OECD (in France and Portugal, 35% of students do not have access to such a platform, compared to 34% in Germany and 25% in Japan). While most countries are in the 35-70% range, universal access to these platforms is only within reach in a handful of countries, including all the Nordic countries, Singapore, Qatar and the four provinces of China that participated in the PISA 2018 survey and, to a lesser extent, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the United States.
Overall, most countries are in this range of 35 to 70% of students enrolled in institutions which, according to their director, have an effective platform to support online learning. At the global level, education systems are very far from being able to ensure universal access to this type of platform.
Do teachers have sufficient technical and pedagogical skills to integrate digital resources into their teaching?
On this point, school leaders have a much more positive opinion. Apart from a few special cases (notably Japan), most countries have around two-thirds of their 15-year-olds in schools whose principal believes teachers have sufficient technical and pedagogical skills for online learning. . Again, wealthy OECD member countries do not fare any better than middle-income countries. The differences between regions are comparatively small, although Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa lag behind Europe, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific. In this time of the pandemic crises, these answers leave some hope.
Do teachers have access to effective professional resources to learn how to use digital tools?
The opinions of school leaders are relatively positive on this point. In most countries, between 45 and 80% of students are educated in an establishment whose principal considers that teachers have access to effective resources to use digital tools, knowing that, in some cases, this proportion is greater than or equal to 90%. Once again, the gaps between rich and middle-income countries in Latin America / Caribbean, Middle East / North Africa, East Asia / Pacific and Europe / Central Asia are small. Two countries are exceptions, Japan and Hungary, where school heads report the absence of this type of resource (affecting 19% and 29% of students respectively).
Let’s take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to eliminate digital divides in education and give ourselves the means to anticipate the next potential crises.
Any analysis of inequalities in education inevitably comes up against the digital paradox. In most of the 82 education systems that participated in the PISA survey, there is a positive correlation between the three variables described above and the socioeconomic status of the students (for each of the variables, this positive and statistically significant correlation was observed in respectively 46, 47 and 56 countries). It is therefore obvious that this weapon of online learning, during the current pandemic as during future temporary school closings, can contribute as much to reducing the inequalities of results as to aggravating them.
To conclude on a positive note, it should be noted that most school heads are confident in the pedagogical skills of their teachers and in the availability of resources to help them use digital tools and thus allow students to continue their learning at school. House. The challenge now is to guarantee universal access to the Internet, the only solution to help schools take ownership of Studymind.co.uk resources and use them according to the age of the students. We will thus begin a smooth transition to digital tools to guarantee – regardless of any disruptive event, the continuity of learning.