The ‘ICT’ Information Communication Technology has enormous impacts and caused huge changes in our lives and on all levels, this is however specially true in the developed world. Meanwhile, the heterogeneity, what regards accessibility, affordability and diffusion of modem ICT, is still a worldwide issue. The majority of people in the developing world still suffer from serious inequalities which indeed sets major constraints in many life situations. In this context, the UN-SDGs, including targets therein, represent the intertwined relations and the increasing complexity of the socio-economic-environment aspects in modern societies. The UN-SDGs is an inter-connected package of interactive goals all of it have multi-layered dynamics with continuous and tight feedback impacts within and between each other. They have to be promoted and implemented in parallel and coherently, and above all to operate in phase with each other. Delayed effects in the function between and within the goals can have unprecedented consequences for major groups in societies as is presented here.
COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated, for example, how education is being severely affected in many countries (https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/sg_policy_brief_covid-19_and_education_august_2020.pdf) where the teachers and students became incapable of performing their activities as in normal situations. Many indeed were left behind and still. During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNESCO came with initiative against the COVID-19 “NO TEACHER OR STUDENT SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND” as proposed by the Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO. As we didn’t have enough room for preparedness on how to meet the pandemic, the UNESCO initiative provided little solutions to promptly help the situation but it paved the way on how to tackle similar situation in the future, specially the second wave of the pandemic which already started in some countries. The impacts of COVID-19 are devastating to the fabrics of life, in general, as we know it, particularly on the education systems in the developing countries. According to UNESCO, some 107 countries implemented nationwide closures of schools by 18 March 2020, in response to the pandemic. This affected over 861.7 million children and youth, i.e. about 45 per cent of the global population of children and youth in schools or according to latest figures up to 78% of global population of school children and youth. Almost a whole generation in the developing world became at risk over night. In the coming second wave if this isn’t dealt with on time, this unprecedented situation could lead to the collapse of school systems in many developing countries as the local governments can’t cope with such enormous consequences of the virus.
The UNESCO initiative focuses specifically on providing a concrete, meaningful and timely response to the unprecedented crisis that the coronavirus is inflicting on the education system in the developing world.
Its objectives were/are: (1) to generate extra-budgetary funds from the World Bank, IMF, regional banks, governments, NGOs, public and private donors, and other voluntary supports; (2) to provide urgently needed funds to schools in developing nations in order to permit the payment of two to three months salaries to teachers; (3) to assist schools to adapt their working methods to enable students to pursue studies under confinement; (4) and to revalue the teaching system/profession in the developing countries (https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/no_teacher_or_student_should_be_left_behind.pdf).
As an example, we can see the case of South Africa and how the digital inequalities in e-learning, in their complex education system, has impacted pupils specially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, e.g. the rural communities. We can name some different reasons for the complexity, which also apply to many other countries in Africa. Language is one, most pupils don’t speak English, as a mother tongue while the official language dominating many classrooms is English. French, for example, is still a dominant language in other African countries while the population in general may have different mother tongues or dialects. Also, the effects of the virus have kept pupils and teachers at home. While e-learning is the solution, the reality in South Africa, as in most developing countries, is very different. Teachers have varying digital skills and many families and teachers cannot afford the systems necessary to sustain some online learning activities. COVID-19 has shown that technology is not anymore a luxury but rather an important component of the education process. However, we still define poverty in conventional ways ‘business-as-usual’ even in world organizations such as IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the WB (World Bank).
In presenting solutions, a wide range of factors must be considered. These range from access to computers, to teacher training, to the social and economic challenges faced by teachers, pupils and schools in their communities. Though Information and Communications Technology ‘ICT’ is taught as a school subject, the government needs to consider an additional range of issues to solidify its commitment towards e-learning. This includes policies and strategies surrounding connectivity, data costs, skills development, hardware access as well as contextual multilingual digital learning content. Many schools still have little or no technology facilities, e.g. tablets and advanced computing systems. Formal training in applied technical skills needs to be extended to all teachers. Adequate digital skills training should become a mandatory component of all teacher training programmes in universities, universities of technology and colleges. Another obstacle is the cost of data-transfer which is among the highest in Africa.This means that pupils can’t always easily access information on their mobile phones. In fact, when pupils and teachers receive the right support for digital learning, the response is often remarkable. Many teachers can willingly dedicate their weekends and school holidays to digital learning and teaching, with no financial incentives. There is also bright spots of collaboration between computing students from the University of the Western Cape with teachers in a high school in an underprivileged part of Cape Town. Their work together has cultivated computing skills and sparked learners’ interest in other subjects like chemistry and astronomy. To know more about the problems of e-learning under the constraints caused by COVID-19 in South Africa see this reference (https://theconversation.com/how-south-africa-can-address-digital-inequalities-in-e-learning-137086).