How The Digital Divide Affected Learning In Kenya During The Lockdown Period
Following the first case of COVID-19 in the country, the government had to indefinitely close all schools and tertiary institutions to curb the further spread of the virus. Despite the government’s putting measures in place to prevent the spread, there continued to be an increased number of infections, and resuming classroom learning would expose students to the disease. For this reason, the government announced in late July that schools and universities would remain closed until January 2021. The closure meant that schools would remain closed for two-thirds of the academic year. For schools to lose almost an entire academic year would have had dire consequences for students and the entire education system. As a result, schools needed to prepare for the transition from classroom to online learning.
Online learning is a method of education where students attend classes with their teachers in a virtual environment, utilizing computers and the internet. Students may also learn through TV, radio programs, and EdTech apps (education technology applications).
The Digital Divide
The term “digital divide” refers to the gap between those who can access electronic devices or devices with internet access and unlimited access to reliable information and those who can’t. Despite an increase in the marketing of electronic gadgets with internet options, the digital divide still persists, and the divide is growing wide. Most students living in the low geographical regions, those whose parents had low-income, the homeless, and persons with learning disabilities lack access to digital electronics and quality internet. The impact of the digital divide has been significant on such students and worsened during the pandemic.
The Impact Of The Digital Divide On Learning
Students who had access to laptops and high-speed internet most likely performed better in their education and stand for better future success in their learning; those who lacked either are unlikely to show the same academic results. Below, we shall look into how the digital divide influenced learning during the lockdown period.
- Poor internet access made students lack motivation. Slow internet is frustrating. ” Students who experience internet problems are less motivated to continue learning. It is also often a distraction in continuous learning, as learners are likely to lose focus if the internet is slow. They cannot connect clearly with their teachers and fellow students or even participate in class.
- Students lacked communication skills. Learners in remote areas lacked access to gadgets and the internet, and so they could not connect with their teachers and classmates for class interaction or homework help. Lacking the internet made students miss out on information or direct communication with their school teachers.
- Apart from being unable to keep up with the learning, the disadvantaged students could not complete homework or conduct independent online research like their peers who had access to the internet, which made them lag in class.
- The division barred access to studies and information. Teachers and students who lacked sufficient technology and digital skills were limited to accessing diverse information; this affected the teaching and learning process. Less privileged students also had limited access to textbooks, reference books, daily assignments, and other learning materials.According to a recent survey of 12 Kenyan universities, only 19,000 out of 500,000 university students were enrolled in online learning. The lack of consistent internet access had an impact on how students performed on their exams; some students did not access school portals to complete their exams, while others did not upload their transcripts.Students complained of the high cost of data bundles, slow network connections, and a lack of a stable power supply. Students who failed to take exams were then required to sit for special exams, which was inconvenient for the schools and students.
- Low-performance: Students who lacked digital access were underutilized in their learning capabilities. These learners missed out on necessary information shared by their tutors that would have advanced their education. Those who had better access to the learning materials achieved excellence in their exams, unlike their counterparts who lacked technology.
- Unfair competition: Students who had access to educational information were better positioned to perform well on national exams, giving them an unfair competitive advantage over their counterparts from marginalized areas.
- Students found it difficult to follow classes online and stay focused. While many learners do not have access to digital gadgets, an even larger number lack access to the internet, which compromises continuous learning.
- unfavourable learning environment. Students with good internet access are more empowered since they have better access to the learning materials and can learn comfortably in their homes. Some of those who lacked internet access from their homes had to walk far distances to access the internet or pay for the services in a cyber café, which is an unconducive environment for learning. Others who had access to a single device were required to share it with other siblings who were also in school, limiting online class participation and instant access to learning materials.
Students with learning disabilities, for instance, those with eye-related problems, struggle to keep their eyes fixed on the phone or computer for long hours. They might not be able to keep up with the lessons. Learners with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) also have difficulty concentrating in an online classroom. In traditional classrooms, teachers pause teaching to address the needs of students with disabilities; in an online class, however, the teacher’s pace is a bit faster. They might not stop addressing these students, which may cause them to fall behind in class. Online learning was not rewarding for such students.
How the Government Improved Online Learning
Loon, Google’s sister company, had launched 35 internet balloons over Kenya’s airspace; this could have bridged the digital divide between rural and urban areas. However, learners in rural areas lacked reliable electricity, gadgets, and access points to the internet.
Because online learning remained inaccessible to the majority of public school students, the government devised another strategy to ensure that students completed the curriculum.The ministry of education worked jointly with the Kenya Broadcasting Company to broadcast education programs on TV and radio. The programs provided lessons for all subjects for at least five hours, Monday through Friday. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development also broadcasts free lessons on their Edu TV channel and radio station. Most homes in the rural areas and informal urban settlements don’t own a TV or a radio, which was again challenging for the students. Eneza, an educational content provider using low-cost mobile technology, also delivered content and assessment tests in line with the curriculum.
In 2019, the government launched a project to give laptops to learners to improve digital learning in schools. Some schools received the gadgets, and others did not. Regardless, the schools that received the gadgets were in no better position since learners did not have prior experience using them; thus, implementing digital learning was ineffective. Even though the government and other organizations have sponsored programs to provide socioeconomically disadvantaged students with internet access, no effort has worked to benefit all students since many learners lack access.
Since education providers and learners had not prepared for the closure of schools, they had very little time to prepare for online learning, which resulted in poor adaptation. Some students covered the syllabus using these resources, and others hardly benefitted from these online classes. In the long run, there was minimal learning during the lockdown, especially in rural areas and informal urban settlements, until schools resumed in January 2021. Therefore, the government must implement policies to address this disparity to withstand possible future crises such as this. While the pandemic affected education, the digital divide exacerbated inequalities in education, created more gaps and hindered most students from accessing quality learning.
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