Digital divide of education in the Global South under Covid 19: implications on access and inclusion

Image Courtesy of The Zimbabwe Mail

By Tafadzwa Makara

Education is a fundamental human right and a vital driver of a nation’s long-term development and growth. The world is grappling with the Covid 19 pandemic and its impacts on social, economic, and political spheres of life.

The effects of Covid 19 are highly experienced in the Global South taking into account that the nations are facing a myriad of challenges including the economic crisis, poverty, other health issues such as the AIDS pandemic, terrorism, civil strife, natural calamities among other socio- economic and political challenges.

Covid 19 has disrupted the education sector in the whole world. The local, national, and international bodies have formulated various partnerships and strategies to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Worldwide, about 95% of the learners have been adversely affected by educational institutions’ closure. Over 1 billion learners were affected by the education sector restrictions imposed to control the pandemic.

The accessibility and quality of education have dwindled and taken back to levels not witnessed since independence.

Many of the African nations are grappling with the appropriate mechanisms of re-opening the educational institutions with some proposing early this year.

Since the Covid 19 pandemic erupted in December 2019, school closures have been widespread across Africa in reaction to the pandemic. This was a critical response, as most practitioners said the closures were essential to avoid propagating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inaccessibility to technology and school closures is perceived as the largest obstacle to learning during the current pandemic. Many educators believe that, as a result, students in rural communities are more likely to be marginalised.

Digital learning platforms and financial resources are the major hindrance regarding access to education leaving majority of learners on the edge.

Students in early childhood and primary level have been primarily affected by the crisis and are less inclined to access the requisite learning technologies as they make up the largest percentage of African students.

This analysis seeks to interrogate the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on Africa’s education system. The pandemic is contributing to the education gap in the world.

Africa is facing a dilemma; to open schools, spread the Covid 19 transmissions, or close schools and sustain the virus’ spread. The majority of nations have employed the second option. The learners have been at home for almost a year now.

By 2018, in Sub-Saharan Africa, cumulative enrolment rates in primary education had risen to about 99 per cent.

Over the last decade, this growing enrolment and completion rates have put extra demand on secondary education systems.

Along with the increasing completion rate in primary education, COVID-19 has challenged African countries’ ability to invest in secondary education when demand is rising.

Covid -19 will have a long-term effect on the African labour force’s future, which needs to adapt the skills acquired through high-quality and appropriate secondary education to a digitalised, rapidly evolving and globalised world of work.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most African nations’ economic development is set to worsen further. This would have a significant effect on the funding of both primary and secondary education, at a time when much more investment is required.

Lower expected economic activity would decrease the government revenue accessible for education in the near future and intensify competitiveness with other primary sectors, such as health and infrastructure, for scarce resources.

World nations formulated ways to sustain the education sector. One of the strategies was the digital transformation of education. Digital transformation for education acts both as a necessity and an advantage for the Global South.

Research has shown that the long term repercussions of Covid 19 on schooling can be countered by implementing digital education systems.

The majority of the nations took the initiative and started formulating internet-based education curricular, other countries, including Senegal, initiated media-based learning.

However, Zimbabwe and many other African countries face varied challenges in the digitalisation process due to a shortage of infrastructure, electricity access to inefficient technologies.

The internet-based education is highlighting socio-economic disparities in different countries. The virtual classrooms are evident in social inequalities indicated by differences in home structures and lack of internet access.

The classroom comprises of learners from diverse social and economic backgrounds. Under such cases, the learners face multiple challenges such as lack of access to the digital facilities which many schools fail to provide.
The deterioration of living standards and the economic decline resulting from the pandemic have shown that most families would not manage to take their children to secondary school.

A substantial share of secondary education expenses is paid for by family expenditures. E-learning also revealed profound disparities in equity that could intensify post-pandemic growth.

Although digital access and literacy are rising, distance learning methods that depend primarily on technology are at risk of exacerbating inequality, as well-off students link and continue their education, while more disadvantaged students are falling behind.

The COVID-19 outbreak could also bring back enrolment and learning improvements in education. School closures have a significant impact on learning in a setting where education has been in turmoil.

Scheduling of exams or poor performance due to learning differences can also influence transfer rates to and within secondary education systems, as high-profile assessments frequently act as a mechanism for restricting entry to higher education levels.

In most situations, the majority of African countries have adopted new approaches to handling the ongoing crisis. Such methods include adaptations to the school calendar, prioritising students in high-level classes, and continuing virtual classrooms parallel with universities.

However, quality and access remain a challenge since many students remained locked out of the system. The digital transformation of education in the Global South will lay the nations’ IT development background.

Technologies will prevail even after the pandemic aftershocks. The transformation of the education sector will yield long-term solutions to solving the pandemic. Education inclusion through digitalisation programs will go a long way in avoiding a lost generation of young people.

In conclusion, educators must work together to draw upon their experience of previous epidemics such as the SARS and Ebola to enable policy makers to consider new alternatives.

Educational planners and decision-makers should take advantage of this crisis to introduce renovated curriculum strategies to prepare for emergencies and render the system more resilient.

Education is a vital human right and acts as the cornerstone for a country’s economic development. The educational services in most nations are free and compulsory for all school going children.

The Global South is grappling with the Covid 19 pandemic and its impacts on social, economic, and political systems.

The Global South situation is worse, considering that the nations face other social, economic, and political challenges such as terrorism, civil strife, and natural calamities.

Coviid 19 has led to education restrictions. In these uncertain times, the main question will be how to re-design education to be accessible without compromising quality.

Re-designing education to meet the growing demands of the 21st Century where access, equity, inclusion and quality are at the core.

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