Limited digital skills are nearly as great a barrier to education following the Covid-19 pandemic as access to technology, a global survey by the Oxford University Press suggests.
A global survey of teachers found that a lack of technology was the most significant barrier to teaching, cited by 68% of those surveyed – but a lack of digital skills among teachers and students came a close second, cited by 56%. One in two said parents lacked the technical understanding of digital tools to support their children learning online.
The report, Addressing the Deepening Digital Divide, recommends that schools consider a greater focus on independent online learning for students – and that policymakers and school leaders develop continuous on-the-job digital training for teachers to build digital competencies.
The survey suggests that teachers think the most disadvantaged students were disproportionately affected – 70% thought this group lost learning time, a figure higher than any other group. Thirty-seven per cent of those surveyed said unequal access to suitable hardware among their students presented “a significant challenge to teaching during the pandemic”.
Two in five (39%) teachers even reported experiencing weak broadband access that affected their delivery of lessons. Improving broadband (57%) and supplying students with individual devices (66%) were the improvements those surveyed prioritised.
It isn’t just about ensuring people have access to the relevant devices, or improving connectivity; unless we fill skills gaps and make sure teachers, learners and parents know how to use digital tools effectively, the digital divide will only continue to grow – Nigel Portwood, Oxford University Press
The accompanying report says to develop online learning and prepare students adequately for the world of work, schools should consider how best to foster more independent, self-guided study – which would better suit the style and pedagogy of online-enabled schooling. As part of this approach, the report encourages teachers to consider rethinking how to measure student engagement: it suggests, for example, asking students to set their objectives and measure their progress. The report calls on governments to spend more on teachers, learning technology and national technology infrastructure.
“Anxious, unconfident or depressed” students and teachers cannot fulfil their classroom potential, the report concludes, warning that unless leaders allocate time to wellbeing and support in the coming years, the rush to catch up on teaching will fall short.
Nigel Portwood, chief executive of Oxford University Press, said: “The world of education continues to undergo significant digital transformation, and yet so many learners are being left behind because of the digital divide.
“And as our research shows, it isn’t just about ensuring people have access to the relevant devices, or improving connectivity; unless we fill skills gaps and make sure teachers, learners, and parents know how to use digital tools effectively, the digital divide will only continue to grow.”
Fathima Dada, managing director of OUP’s education division, said: “It is imperative that governments and policy experts come together on a global scale to address the issues identified in our report. We know where the problems lie, and we now need a forward-looking approach to fix them. We owe it to students to ensure that digital learning is fit for purpose, not just in times of crisis, but as we start to look ahead to the future of learning.”