An equal and inclusive educational system lies with technology

    An equal and inclusive educational system lies with technology

    The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns ushered students back into homes, where remote lessons via laptops, tablets and devices became the order of the day. Having the option for remote learning has allowed millions of students to continue their education virtually uninterrupted – but for some, the move to home-based learning has been difficult to adapt to.

    According to UNICEF, almost one-third of schoolchildren worldwide cannot be reached by internet or broadband-based learning initiatives due to a lack of connectivity or technology. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated that close to half of the world’s students are still affected by partial or full school closures. The impact is not limited to developing nations – 32% of pupils in some EU member states lacked access to education for several months, prompting the body’s parliament to convene to discuss strategies to address the “severe discrepancies” brought about by lockdowns in the EU.

    As the world continues to fight against COVID-19, governments and educational institutions must take the opportunity to make education more resilient and inclusive. Now is the time to expand the scope of education, so that it reaches even the least well-off and the differently abled. Technologies of the future – cloud, edge, data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), and more – will make a difference here.

    The potential of inclusive and assistive technologies

    Affordable devices for the underserved
    According to the Endless OS Foundation, up to 4.5 billion globally are underserved by access to digital technology and learning. For these communities in need, the lack of money and access to finance are top difficulties.

    To overcome these challenges, organisations such as Endless OS Foundation have developed open-source computing platforms distributed via low-cost PCS. Besides building its own computers and laptop – coming in at just $1 a day for users – it works with consumer tech companies to provide highly affordable devices to underserved populations. The foundation has also devised an innovative pay-as-you-go mechanism that allows users in these markets to pay in affordable increments for computer and internet use.

    Location-independent and offline services

    In many countries, internet access is also limited or expensive. When remote learning becomes a necessity during lockdowns or similar crises, many would be left stranded without the appropriate access to lessons and learning materials.

    Simple digital solutions can help to meet these challenges. Zaya’s ClassCloud supports up to 40 laptops and devices in a classroom even with intermittent or no connectivity. Meanwhile, the Endless OS platform supports offline learning – it comes pre-loaded with useful open-source resources, games and applications, allowing users to learn, work and play anytime and anywhere.

    Assistive education technology

    For education to be truly accessible, it must also be fit for different learning styles and abilities. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and AI technologies are already making inroads to the classroom and hold huge potential to aid students with disabilities.

    Immersive VR experiences have been shown to help students on the autism spectrum stay engaged and attentive in classes, and AI noise-canceling technology is likely to have similar benefits by blocking out noise and distractions in classroom and non-classroom settings. Devices with built-in accessibility features such as voice-to-text, word prediction and optical character recognition will also go a long way to optimising learning for the differently abled.

    Holistic efforts towards inclusive education

    The above offers only a glimpse into the potential of technology to make education more equal and inclusive for all. But of course, governments and schools must tackle this wide-ranging and complex problem from a non-technological standpoint too, to truly unleash the potential of digital solutions.

    Foundationally, technology infrastructure and connectivity – especially in far-flung regions – need to be planned for at the high level to improve internet access for students and teachers. In rolling out distance-learning initiatives, schools must also consider disadvantaged kids and students with disabilities from the outset. Teachers too, must be trained to be competent in various open, hybrid and distance learning technologies and low-cost tools that can be used to make education accessible to all students.

    With holistic efforts at the infrastructural, digital and strategic levels, we can ensure that students are no longer left stranded on the other side of the digital gap.