A public health crisis - the COVID-19 pandemic - has brought to light a technological one, with schools closing in more than 188 countries, the digital divide in education is now more evident than ever.
Computer Aid International was founded in 1997 with the mission of bridging the digital divide and our mission is still as relevant as it was 23 years ago. Along the way, we have seen a lot of progress, but we still see how some members of society are still desperately lacking technology, especially in remote communities, low-income families, the elderly and marginalised groups.
Lily, a teacher at a public school in Colombia, is close to retirement has tried to embrace technology in her life as well as in her class as much as she can. She now faces a new challenge as due to the Coronavirus crisis the government, almost overnight, asked all schools to transfer their regular classes into a virtual environment without any training or preparation. Lily's biggest worry are the 40% of students in her class that lack access to the necessary technology, smartphones, laptops, PCs and internet access. She knows this virtual learning can only be effective if parents also partake in the exercise, but not all parents are in the position to help, some of them do not have the experience using tech gadgets or don't have the time to commit to it as the majority of them live from hand to mouth.
Other countries with less technology and internet penetration have opted for closing schools and have sent students and teachers on holidays, disrupting their calendars and affecting the students' progress. According to UNESCO currently, worldwide there are 1,543,446,152 affected learners.
Schools are not the only ones affected by this crisis, some university students are also struggling, the education sector, in general, is being hit hard. Other sectors are being affected too - other NGOs, small companies and start-ups don't have the resources to keep working from home, hospital workers and patients don't have gadgets to communicate with their families, older people that are not familiar with the use of technology and the internet are finding themselves completely isolated.
We take technology and internet access for granted, for most of us it's part of our day to day, but we tend to forget it is still a privilege, according to the International Telecommunications Union, only 53.6% of the world population have access to the internet, suggesting almost half of the world is still offline. Is not a secret that we live in a divided society widely unequal where the worlds richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people, and almost half of the world is living on less than $5.50 USD a day
In the UK, it's estimated that 93% of the population have access to the internet - one of the highest percentages in the world! However, over five million people are not accessing vital services for help and information online according to the Office For National Statistics, majority of these people being part of the most marginalized groups in society, the disable and the elderly, but there are also 773,000 adults under 65 that are part of the statistics, and in secondary school, 700,000 students don't have access to computers or internet at home and within this 60,000 don't have internet access at all.
When compared with developing countries the UK internet access of 93% looks quite impressive, for instance in Colombia it is 65% and in Ethiopia only 17.8%.
But digital inequality goes beyond whether you were born in a rich country or a developing country. It goes further into specific social groups, dividing students into social classes, from private schools with access to resources to those in public schools that rely on public funding to get the necessary resources.
In 23 years our work has never been as relevant as it is now. During this crisis we have received an overwhelming number of requests for technology, we have more demand than we can supply, but we are doing everything in our hands to support those who are left without technology access. The current circumstances are presenting our society with new challenges and we are committed to enabling people to fully participate in society, social distancing should not mean not being able to be connected to your community.
There are many ways you can help us help others:
Ask your employer what they are doing with their spare equipment, we can provide secure and sustainable IT disposal it might take us a little bit longer than usual, but we are aiming to make it work:
Sponsor students to get technology by donating funds here to help us deliver equipment to those who need it most: