The Inter-American Dialogue, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the World Bank have launched a joint call to action to mobilize resources from the public, private, and civil society sectors to solve an issue that is as crucial as it is urgent: bringing educational connectivity to hard-to-reach areas in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It is not just a matter of expanding technology. As was made evident during the pandemic, today, more than ever, access to connectivity in schools is a matter of rights. What is at stake is nothing less than the possibility of bridging the gaps that condition each person’s opportunities, as well as the sustainable and inclusive growth and resilience of our countries.
Why Is It So Important to Connect Schools in Complex Areas?
1. In the 21st century, connectivity cannot be a luxury item: It is a right.
Connectivity has never been so important for the continuity of work, socialization, trade, and life in general. During the pandemic, thanks to the internet, we were able to continue to connect work teams with companies, we managed to keep communicating remotely with our loved ones, and children and young people were able to maintain some kind of contact with their friends and peers. The internet was particularly essential for learning continuity during the closure of schools, colleges, and universities.
However, the education sector was not prepared for this accelerated transition to the virtual world. When the pandemic hit, very few countries had well-established governance, trained professionals, available infrastructure, learning platforms, and digital management systems.
Connectivity is a key element in the digitization process of educational services. According to Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) standards, at present, most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean do not meet the basic connectivity conditions for education. We do not have educational connectivity services with a minimum speed of 10 Mbps or a 4G connection, i.e., a fixed connection with adequate data, accessible daily through a smart and functional device.
Despite the gradual return to in-person attendance, it is clear that connectivity in schools can no longer be a luxury item. An educational model that helps young people connect to better financial and quality-of-life opportunities cannot be envisioned if service does not include significant connectivity and access to the digital world.
2. Educational connectivity is needed to advance equity.
When we think about the impact of the pandemic, the word that may most often come to mind is “disconnected:” from school, from routine, from social life, from work, and from family. But this disconnection was not the same for everyone. Connectivity had never before made such a marked difference between rich and poor, or remote and urban.
When all economic and social activity starts to depend on a broadband cable, access ceases to be a simple alternative and becomes a right. Therefore, talking about technology and connectivity is focusing on equity.
Access gaps in our region are still enormous:
- Although 79% of the region is covered by broadband networks, only 45% of people have access to daily connectivity, i.e., less than half of the population.
- Existing data on rural and urban coverage show that 67% of households in urban areas have access to connectivity, compared with only 23% in rural areas, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). In some countries, more than 90% of rural households have no internet connection at all.
The access gap was one of the greatest obstacles education systems had to face to ensure learning continuity during school closures, especially for students living in the most vulnerable contexts:
- 22% of vulnerable students did not have access to the internet and only 19% had a computer at home.
- In public schools and in rural areas, synchronous interactions between teachers and students were less frequent because of their low access to virtual education platforms.
- This halt in the accumulation of skills and human capital will not only translate into lost opportunities, growth, and future income for children and young people, but it will also have both immediate and long-term consequences for the wellbeing of countries in the region.
3. Investing in connectivity in schools means moving toward education 4.0.
The magnitude of this challenge facing Latin America and the Caribbean requires complex responses and significant interinstitutional coordination, as well as close collaboration between the public and private sectors.
It is time to rethink our education systems and lay the foundations for an educational transformation in the medium and long term to strengthen the capacities of children and young people, with a focus on reducing educational inequality.
The structural problems that already existed in the region make it clear that we cannot return to prepandemic conditions.
Therefore, the objective is to move toward inclusive and high-quality education, which we call “education 4.0,” i.e., education that adapts to the needs of today’s children and young people and guides the use of technology toward learning that is connected to the needs of societies and a constantly changing labor market.
Nowadays, technology plays an important role in addressing at least three key challenges that face education systems:
- Modernizing the educational management systems necessary to make resource allocation more effective and equitable.
- Recovering the educational pathways of young people who have been disconnected from education. If we do not prioritize digitizing this sector, then we cannot envision implementing, at scale, programs that focus on ensuring that students remain in school; early warning systems to identify students at risk of dropping out; or individualized support for teachers, in order to protect these pathways.
- Accelerating learning, not only to recover what was not learned during the pandemic, but also to bring our students’ learning to, at minimum, the average of OECD countries.
All of these solutions require that we ensure access to equipment and significant connectivity for all children and young people in the region.
Four Lines of Action for Boosting Significant Connectivity
The call to action promoted by the IDB, together with the Inter-American Dialogue and the World Bank, includes four lines of action:
- Private investment must play an important role in expanding educational connectivity in complex areas. To this end, it is essential to create consistent incentives and regulatory conditions to facilitate the investment process and sustainable business models.
- Public investment is—and should be—an essential component of any strategy for extending internet coverage for educational purposes to rural populations. The challenge, however, is not only to mobilize the necessary resources, but also to ensure that their allocation contributes to boosting private investment and maximizes the provision of significant connectivity.
- Within the current state of technological development, technological solutions for connecting rural areas must include a set of options for the short, medium, and long term.
- Each state must develop long-term national strategies, in which the objective of guaranteeing significant connectivity for educational uses in rural areas (in both schools and homes) is duly incorporated into the state’s planning and/or public policy instruments, so that the actions of all state agents are effectively coordinated.
Would you like to learn more about the call to action to improve educational connectivity in complex areas? Find out more here. How developed is educational connectivity in your country and how are inequalities in complex areas addressed? Leave a comment.