The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At least 463 million students around the world have no access to digital or broadcast lessons, UNICEF report says

Children haul loads of gravel as they assist their families, who have received government aid to build homes, in the Aldama district of Chiapas state, Mexico, on Aug. 24. (Isabel Mateos/AP)

At least 463 million students around the world have no access to remote lessons provided by digital or broadcast means because families don’t have the ability to receive them or governments are not providing them, a new UNICEF report released Wednesday says.

The report — titled “Covid-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures?” — looked at data from 100 countries about the potential reach of remote-learning policies and found, not surprisingly, that digital and broadcast remote learning is more available in wealthier countries and/or urban areas and ranges from zero percent to 100 percent in low- and middle-income countries.

The study was undertaken after most of the schools around the world closed this spring when the novel coronavirus began to spread and turned into a pandemic. Almost all of the world’s 1.5 billion pre-K-12 students were affected as governments rushed to provide remote learning with digital tools, television- and radio-based teaching, and paper packages taken home by students.

The report says that of the at least 31 percent of students who can’t be reached by digital or broadcast, almost half are in East and Southern Africa — and more than 70 percent live in rural areas.

During the school closures, governments responded quickly to devise remote-learning options for families, the study says, but only 60 percent of governments provided remote-learning policies for pre-primary students.

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Among the recommendations in the report to ensure that students can continue to learn during and after the pandemic:

  • Democratize access to safe and secure remote learning for all children and young people. Remote learning programs need to be designed around modalities that are accessible to all children and adapted for households that do not have access to broadcast or digital media.
  • Modernize the infrastructure and delivery methods used by education systems and produce accessible resources based on the national curriculum. These vital improvements will make education systems stronger and more robust and can enrich learning opportunities for all children — including the estimated 258 million who are out of school — whether schools are open or not.
  • Identify the best combination of remote learning policies, develop and provide quality education content, and invest in infrastructure that will help reach marginalized children by supporting remote learning in remote and rural areas.
  • Support and train teachers and parents to effectively manage remote “virtual” classrooms and help children learn at home, at all levels of education including preprimary. Blended learning approaches that combine in-person and remote instruction will be critical.
  • Address the social and gender norms that in many countries prevent children — especially girls — from using computers and online learning to their maximum potential. Invest in innovation that supports real-time monitoring of remote learning, including formative learning assessments.

Here’s the full report: