Connectivity - A Barrier to Education
Lisa Henry, Volunteer Writer
Internet connectivity has become essential for children’s learning during the COVID-19 global pandemic yet a staggering two thirds of developing nations have no access to the internet at all . This means that there are approximately 4 billion people who do not have internet access , with around 2 billion of them being students and young adults .
As schools have shifted predominantly to online and remote learning, many disadvantaged or rural communities are now missing out on crucial education where there is no internet connection. In response to this, many organisations including the Breteau Foundation, are working towards UN SDG 9 to build infrastructure and foster innovation for disadvantaged communities; many of us are working together to better understand some of the barriers to internet access and are actively exploring alternative solutions to ensure children can continue learning without internet access.
Barriers to Internet Access
There are multiple factors that contribute to disproportionate access to the internet, with the two most significant barriers being affordability and lack of infrastructure. Currently, there are 2 billion people globally who are unable to purchase 500MB of data because it is simply not affordable for them . Even for those that can afford a 500MB data package, 500MB of data would give a child the capacity to have one 30 minute virtual meeting with their teacher and peers . This would mean that for children requiring regular internet access at home for schooling, families would need a minimum of 6 GB of data just for one child to be online for an average 6 hour school day.
Further to this, for individuals living in rural locations, digital networks are more expensive for companies to set up which often deters companies from investing in those areas, leaving those children behind in a global pandemic heavily dependent on online learning . Even if they were to successfully set it up, it would cost families 2 – 3 times more than what is paid for in urban areas which again becomes an issue of affordability for those families .
As an organisation that provides education technology to disadvantaged communities, the Breteau Foundation has always prioritised connectivity and understood its role and impact for children’s learning. Since the pandemic, we have partnered with One Billion, an ed-tech company that created the Onetab, an offline tablet that enables children to learn at home and develop their literacy, numeracy, and reading skills. Hardwearing and easy to be used by multiple students, the Onetab offers many activities in multiple languages making it a well rounded low tech offline solution. This is a solution we are very proud of and are continuing to grow in Lebanon, South Africa and now in the UK, with an expanding network of sponsors.
The World Bank has also been proactive in providing funds for grants to set up broadband, allocating over 1 billion US Dollars to set up digital infrastructure in the South Pacific, Caribbean Islands, and parts of Africa . Along with this, the World Bank is driving countries to increase private investment, and carry out more in depth research, in a bid to find ways to close the digital gap.
We are also seeing multiple companies from all sectors exploring tech solutions around the world. Corporates like Huawei, for example, have partnered with local internet providers in Nigeria to launch RuralStar – a remote wireless station that provides energy efficient and cost effective mobile broadband in some of the most remote places. Other innovations include UK-based non-profit, Global Teach, who have developed a solar-powered projector to bring digital education to remote locations. Learning materials are tailored to specific learning needs and curated from a range of organisations from the education, government and corporate sectors. These teaching resources are uploaded via USB to a projector that works completely offline to reach children in disconnected communities.
Whilst many barriers remain that prevent children from connecting with learning online, there are world-wide and cross-sector collaborative efforts to find offline or alternative solutions to support children during this pandemic and for the long term. For the Breteau Foundation, it has meant that we have printed academic booklets, provided free educational apps that run offline and more recently, launched the Home Tablet Project which enables children to use tablets that work completely offline at home and continue developing numeracy, literacy and reading skills. We remain committed to developing solutions for the children we work with and determined that, no matter their background or location, they will have the same opportunity as everyone else to access quality education.
 Sustainable Development Goal 9: Investing in ICT access and quality education to promote lasting peace, United Nations, 2021
 4 reasons 4 billion people are still offline | World Economic Forum, We Forum, 2020
 How-many-children-and-young-people-have-internet-access-at-home-, Unicef 2020
 How Much Data Does Zoom Use?, Whistle Out, 2020
 Connecting for Inclusion: Broadband Access for All, World Bank 2021