The digital divide and inclusive education during Covid-19

Our Beyond the Pandemic debates continued at Espai Societat Oberta this week, a series reflecting on human rights in the time of Covid-19. So far we have discussed digital rights & privacy and civil rights. This week we focused on the digital divide; a problem that existed before the pandemic but has become more acute in the current context.

We invited Ainara Zubillaga (Director of Education and Training at the Cotec Foundation for Innovation) and Gabriel González Carrillo (Head of Innovation at the Esplai Foundation and member of the Third Sector Committee). The debate was moderated by Diari de l’Educació journalist, Sandra Vicente.

Content, devices and unequal access

The debate began with questions about the effectiveness of moving education online. Vicente stated that “the school has become a space for the transmission of knowledge and we have lost value and social potential”. How would it be possible to improve the digitization process to achieve an inclusive educational system? The panel discussed policies and adult-centric decisions, inequalities & teleworking and conciliation.

“The educational debate is revolving around content and evaluation. A broader approach to the school curriculum is needed” stated Ainara Zubillaga. Zubillaga stressed that the students most affected are those who come from families with few economic resources, which is why the education system should be rethought in a context like the current one. González Carrillo added that: “The possibilities are not the same for everyone: not all families have sufficient devices or the skills to accompany them in training and leisure spaces”.

Digital inequality more visible than ever

Zubillaga illustrated the concept of the digital divide through a more traditional understanding of education: “Having a device at home or a connection is not synonymous with learning. Just as having a notebook and a pen is not the same as being able to read and write. In other words, it’s no longer just about having access to devices or an Internet connection. It’s also about how to use the tools and what knowledge we have to do it or accompany it.

“We need to develop an educational and support model that facilitates the use of technology, not just access to it. The digital divide has not been overcome at all and digital literacy is still necessary”, added González Carrillo.

Non-inclusive policies

Inclusion by definition should take into account everyone’s reality, not just providing computers and tablets to families. The panelists were asked what happens when classes are followed through an app without accessibility, and why pdfs are not the best option.

Technology is good but it also accelerates risks and discrimination. Most e-learning platforms are not accessible,” states González Carrillo. Zubillaga followed by adding that these technological and technical barriers are more evident in a situation like the current one: “we are talking about groups that have learning experiences that are difficult to reproduce on a screen. There is a part of the educational process that cannot be virtualized,”

Digital literacy, informal education and future challenges

The debate on digital divides and inclusive education addressed many more issues than just those summarized here. It is clear that digital literacy is still a challenge for many schools and groups. The role of non-formal education in the learning process has also been highlighted and different scenarios in education and technology in the ‘new normality’ were put forward.  Don’t miss the full video of the debate! Remember –  Espai Societat Oberta’s next event on Beyond the Pandemic is next Wednesday 20th May. We will reflect on global justice and Covid-19 and the kind of world we want to transition back into.

Reports commented on during the debate

Below are some of the documents mentioned during the debate on digital divides and Covid-19.

Reports from Fundación COTEC about Digital Divides:

Research promoted by Taula d’entitats del Tercer Sector Social de Catalunya through the m4social project, and prepared by Fundación Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia:

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