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Digital divide needs addressing, report urges

Limited digital skills are “nearly as great a problem” as access to technology, according to a new report by Oxford University Press.

Limited digital skills are “nearly as great a problem” as access to technology, according to OUP. Photo: iStock

According to half the teachers surveyed, a lack of digital understanding limited the “effectiveness of support”

The world’s largest university press released the report on October 25 diving into the digital divide in education in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing the Deepening Digital Divide explores the barriers to “effective teaching and learning”, as well as the impact on learners’ development as the result of the divide.

Some 1,557 school and English language teachers from 92 countries were surveyed for OUP’s report.

Along with the findings, the report also puts forward recommendations for educators to “narrow the divide”.

Those surveyed rated poor access to the internet or a device as the biggest barrier to digital learning, while 56% cited that it was held back by a lack of digital skills “among parents, teachers and learners”.

This comes despite the report saying that teachers want parents to “play a bigger role” in children’s digital learning. According to half the teachers surveyed, a lack of digital understanding limited the “effectiveness of support”.

Disadvantaged students also tended to receive less educational support from their parents, with 58% of teachers citing it as an issue.

“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,” said Nigel Portwood, CEO of OUP.

“The world of education continues to undergo significant digital transformation, and yet so many learners are being left behind because of the divide.”

Other findings included 70% of respondents saying disadvantaged learners didn’t get some learning due limited or, in some cases no access whatsoever, to devices – 44% also felt the student group had been “negatively affected” during the pandemic.

“We know where the problems lie, and we now need a forward-looking approach to fix them”

Student engagement was also cited by 61% of teachers as a “bigger challenge” than costs, education funding or digital infrastructure.

In terms of solutions, OUP’s managing director of their education division Fathima Dada said it was “imperative” to address the issues.

“We know where the problems lie, and we now need a forward-looking approach to fix them,” said Dada.

“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.”

The report’s proposed solutions included a greater focus on “independent” learning, digital competency skills for both parents and teachers as well as students, and addressing both ends of the divide by “target resources”.

OUP’s upcoming event, The Forum For Educators, promises to discuss the report’s findings in depth on November 4.

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