The pandemic exposed a brutal digital divide. Now let’s fix it.

In the latest edition of the #MakeEducationWork series, the By Us, For Us study reveals the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s access to education. 

The vast majority of young people suffered from disruption to their education during the pandemic, but the impact was not distributed evenly.

With classrooms closed, many schools attempted to switch teaching online. But this risked leaving those without reliable internet access behind. What resulted was a brutal digital divide, with connectivity alone making a big difference to whether or not a young person missed out on vital education.

Almost all of those without internet access at home (91%) experienced disruption to their education, while just two-thirds (66%) of those who could rely on internet access felt disrupted.

Those that were fortunate enough to have reliable internet access saw some benefits to online education, including lower course fees, no need for travel and more flexible scheduling.

While those who felt Covid-19 had affected their education, the most cited factor was struggling to stay connected to online courses (21%) while no longer being able to afford education (7%) and being no longer able to access the learning materials and resources they needed (5%) were also significant factors.

The digital divide played out geographically too, as many nations that are known to have poorer internet connectivity were more significantly disrupted. A higher proportion of those in Africa and Asia (78%) felt negatively affected compared with those living in Europe, Middle East and North Africa (62%).

Meanwhile gender, once again, turned out to be a key factor in disruption to education. When schools closed, many families decided that daughters should go into early marriages or take on more domestic responsibilities instead of persisting with education during such uncertain times. UNICEF estimates as many as 10 million girls worldwide were impacted in this way.

Finally, it was not just schools that impacted young people’s learning and development. During the pandemic, work opportunities dried up and particularly hit young people who were three times more likely to be unemployed compared with adults.

Internships, apprenticeships, study placements overseas and other extracurricular activities – all vital to developing the soft skills employers are looking for – all came to an end too. This prompted some young people to change their career aspirations completely.

As one young female intern in a law firm in India shared: “Due to COVID, the courts were completely shut. The opportunities that I (an intern) used to get were eliminated. This changed my aspirations completely. This was when I started noticing the start-up environment in my country and that is why I shifted to become an aspiring entrepreneur instead.”

The pandemic has clearly had an unequal impact on young people’s education across the world, in order to #MakeEducationWork again we will need to close the gap and enable millions of young people to catch up on their education. Join the campaign fighting to make this happen.

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The pandemic exposed a brutal digital divide. Now let’s fix it.

by #MakeEducationWork Reading time: 2 min
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