Each year, more of the world’s population is able to access education. According to global children’s charity Unicef, this starts with the basic right for “literacy, numeracy and problem solving combined with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes”. One of Unicef’s missions is to ensure every child has access to education to ensure they can survive, develop potential, improve the quality of their lives, make informed decisions and continue learning.
If you look at the growing access to education across the past few decades the numbers speak for themselves. In 2007, 57 countries were providing over 10 years of formal education to people; by 2017, it grew to 173 countries. The same goes for those who provide under five years of formal education, which, in 2017, 47 countries were unable to deliver. However, by 2017, this number shrank to just 32 countries. This is a huge, global, success story and is enabling millions of people to be better educated, and stand better chances in life. We know of many great organisations, such as Unicef, and global initiatives to help increase access to school level education. This means more of us are ready for further education and are heading towards the promise of lifelong learning, which is already a necessity as the world around us is constantly evolving.
There are, however, still many cultural and societal issues when it comes to a fair, inclusive and equal access to education. This issue is global; too many exclusions still block the fundamental right of access to education. While we are moving in the right direction, we have a long way to go before everyone has access to education throughout their lives, even with the greatest efforts of technological advances.
Technology will save us?
Access to education is drastically increased with technology, as one major barrier – cost – is being continuously lowered with the price of digitised learning falling globally. Equally important is the decreasing cost of devices, data needed, electrical power and bars of signal to connect. Putting more technology in the hands of learners is creating an increasingly globally connected society each year. Technology can be transformational – a personal device connects another digital self to the world.
However, technology isn’t the silver bullet, especially when that very device can also bring with it a range of hidden problems that can become significant barriers to accessing education:
- Disproportionate enrolment costs
- Shared devices limit access
- Low digital literacies are a hidden barrier
These factors contribute to the digital divide, which has grown to become a vast and complex issue. But if we break it down and understand what can be improved, we can make steady progress.
“Putting more technology in the hands of learners is creating an increasingly globally connected society each year”
Our global Future of Learning trend report asked individuals about access to education, and there was considerable optimism. Over half of Australian adults (54%) and two-fifths of those in the UK and USA (42% respectively) believe that global access to education will increase in the future. Many adults across the three countries also think that education will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities (55% Australia, 47% UK, 46% USA), as well as being more individually tailored to people’s interests (47% Australia, 33% UK, 38% USA).
We don’t want to see anyone shut out
The biggest journeys in this fast-paced world don’t equate to an overnight arrival. We recognise that there are many challenges along the way. But as digital education opens more doors, we must be sure it’s for an increasingly inclusive audience.
Our report also focused on diversity and inclusivity in interviews with educational experts, including Sara Ali of The Hopenclass, who reminds us of the importance to look around our now digital classrooms and ask “who is missing from this class”. Similarly, dean Patricia Davidson of Johns Hopkins University reflects that “we have to make sure that digital innovation and acceleration does not widen this disparity.” There is unanimous sentiment from all experts that digital education can help to increase access and reduce disparities between different ethnic and racial groups and socioeconomic statuses, as well as the differences between low, middle and high income countries.
Trends point towards incremental improvement
Global views on digital education are positive. Of those surveyed for our report, respondents across all three countries agree that online learning can provide similar benefits to that of formal education. We found that one in five (21% of) Millennials strongly agree with this statement. The popularity of digital learning is growing, with millions of students turning to online platforms throughout 2020. As we navigate the pandemic, we must realise that the quick fixes offered by digital learning are part of a much bigger movement.
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