How do we bridge the digital divide for greater equity?
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The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and widened inequities that existed long before it began.
The digital divide is a pandemic on its own. It separates those who have access to technology from those who do not. Statistics show that one-third of the world's children have missed out on remote learning during the pandemic. But the reality in South Africa, as in most developing countries, is very different. Our educators have varying digital skills. Also, many families and teachers cannot afford the data necessary to sustain some online learning activities.
The world over is trying to adapt to new ways of living and working, we have witnessed the acceleration of a number of trends around the world. From online learning that keeps students and teachers connected to the wave of digital transformation that’s sweeping across our companies and industries.
When the digital divide stands in the way of obtaining a quality education, it’s also a knowledge divide. This problem knows no borders and impacts people everywhere – hurting both developed and developing economies, rural and urban communities, children and adult professionals. How do we eliminate this problem?
- The South African government needs to consider an additional range of issues if it’s going to solidify a commitment towards e-learning, such as surrounding connectivity, data costs, skills development, hardware access as well as contextual multilingual digital learning content.
- The private sector can make a difference. According to the World Economic Forum, many companies are stepping up. Land O'Lakes is spearheading a coalition of businesses, associations and other organisations to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas in the US. Cisco and MuralNet launched a Sustainable Tribal Networks programme to provide consistent internet access and services.
- The public sector can also play a role by investing in connectivity, hardware, content and digital literacy programmes.
- Collaborations between computing students from the University of the Western Cape with teachers in a high school in an underprivileged part of Cape Town. Working together has cultivated computing skills and sparked learners’ interest in other subjects such as chemistry and astronomy. A similar collaboration has been expanded to the North West province, where thousands of teachers are keen to retrain to prepare their pupils for the digital era.
Promoting digital inclusion must be a top priority for companies and governments alike. With the proper support and training, digital teaching and learning can become global even in resource-strapped environments.