Driving Education Equality with Technology
Everyone has the right to education and the opportunities that it brings. However, for 1.57 billion students across the globe, 2020 has seen this basic right eroded like never before, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting school doors worldwide and pressing the pause button on learning.
For many of us, today’s world is a connected world, a world in which connectivity and digital technology have shown their value by powering a level of continuity in life, work, and education during the crisis.
However, that’s not true for everyone.
The pandemic has also brought the global digital divide into sharp relief. When it comes to education, some communities have been able to react quickly, using strong digital infrastructure and affordable devices to keep children in class – remotely. Access to virtual classrooms, teachers, and high-quality education resources have maintained strong continuity in learning outcomes.
Children that can benefit from digital technologies for education are fortunate. But not everyone has access to connectivity – nearly half the world’s population remains unconnected by digital infrastructure. The fact is, we have a serious lack of digital inclusion at all levels of society, especially in education. And the gap is increasing because technology is changing so fast.
The Hidden Complexity of What Causes Exclusion
If we scratch beneath the connectivity surface, a more complex problem emerges than just network coverage – connectivity alone doesn’t equal digital empowerment. For example, not only are devices and an Internet connection prohibitively expensive for many, but millions of students and teachers lack the digital skills needed to use them.
So, what can we do?
While promoting equal access to education is a significant problem, it doesn’t need to be a difficult problem.
As a technology company, we can’t solve the digital divide alone and we don’t claim to be able to. But what we can do is help with connectivity, applications and skills. We have the tools and resources we need, but we have to put them to work. With our partners, each of whom bring unique value to the table, we believe that we can do that.
That’s the thinking behind our digital inclusion initiative, TECH4ALL. The goal of this program is to make sure that every person can benefit from digital technology, and that every person has a place in the digital world.
Education for All
In education, we want to help make high-quality education available everywhere, anytime, to everyone. To do that, we’re focusing on two areas: developing digital skills and connecting schools.
Developing digital skills: We mostly work with young adults in remote communities to create better career opportunities through training.
One example of this is DigiTruck, a mobile classroom converted from a shipping container that we drive to remote communities in Kenya. The course content we provide with our partners ranges from basic software skills and using the Internet to starting an online business and entrepreneurship. The project has so far trained 1,145 students and 100 teachers in 6 counties in Kenya.
You can watch and read more about DigiTruck and feedback from students here: Student Voices: Why We Need Access to Digital Skills
It’s not just emerging economies that face issues with digital literacy. In fact, according to the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, 43% of EU citizens lack basic digital skills. It’s a global problem that requires a global approach – one step at a time. As such, we’re going to expand the DigiTruck program to five more countries over the next two years, including France and the Philippines.
Connecting Schools: Here, we’re focusing on providing Internet connectivity, digital devices, online content, and digital training for teachers and students in remote communities.
I’ve seen firsthand how important delivering on this commitment is. In February, I visited an elementary school in Johannesburg. I was deeply impressed by how passionate the teachers were about their work and how eager the kids were to learn.
But, I was equally struck by the lack of resources that the school has access to. The computer lab, for example, doubles up as a storage room, making it impossible to use for its intended purpose.
That’s not because the students and teachers don’t want to use it – there simply isn’t anyone available to teach computer classes and, even if there was, the school lacks sufficient Internet access. The one ADSL connection in the entire school runs to the principal’s office. And while there’s a mobile base station less than 30 meters away, the school cannot afford access.
These children will grow up unconnected from the digital world, which in turn will have a huge ripple effect on all aspects of their lives. There are many schools like this in every country, but we can make a big difference with some simple steps.
In Johannesburg, we started a project called DigiSchool. We partnered with the local telecom carrier Rain and the local non-profit Click Foundation. Here’s how it works:
- Huawei provides networking equipment, smart tablets and operational support.
- Rain provides free network services.
- Click Foundation provides content and teaching resources.
Soon the kids in this school will be set up for eLearning, starting with English classes. We’re working with 12 schools right now and, over the next year, our goal is to connect and empower 100 primary schools in South Africa.
If we reach this goal, we can bring new opportunities to more than 50,000 children. And that’s just one project in one country.
We Can Go Further Together
The world is hurting right now. But this pandemic represents a good opportunity for all of us to consider the issues that affect us all and push for change together. We can’t solve all education challenges overnight, but if we work together we can take more steps forward.
Education is the driving force that empowers individuals to shape their futures, enjoy better opportunity, and make informed choices throughout life.
Platforms like the UNESCO Global Education Coalition and TECH4ALL are a great way to coordinate efforts and resources around the globe. Click the links for more information about the above webinar and the education domain of the Huawei TECH4ALL initiative.
About the Author
Ken Hu is Deputy Chairman and Rotating CEO at Huawei. Born in 1967, Mr Hu holds a bachelor’s degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology. He joined Huawei in 1990.