In the run up to Universal Children's Day (taking place on 20 November), RESET.org is taking a look at education and the role that technology and new media can play in boosting access to and delivering educational tools.
According to the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK, more than 57 million primary-schooled aged children around the world do not go to school, a stark figure on its own but a huge leap forward from the 106 million children not enrolled in school around the turn of the century.
There is still a ways to go before we hit the United Nations goal of education for all by 2015 but savvy thinking combined with 21st century tech is providing one avenue to a solid childhood education. Technology and tech-based solutions have been making strides on many societal fronts, education being just one of them. The adaptability of tech solutions coupled with a number of initiatives helping to bridge digital divides leaves little doubt that well-implemented technological tools and methods are being recognised as useful mechanisms for boosting education.
A Proper Headstart: Childhood Education
Much has been written about the benefits of providing the means to obtaining an education in the early years of childhood. Many view early childhood education as critical to personal development.
The effect of education upon areas such as health, poverty and conflict is complex as quite often, the detriment of one (for example, with the field of 'health': the spread of disease) can play a role in the detriment of the other (fewer students attending school as a result of being sick) and vice versa (people getting sick due to lack of knowledge about disease transmission).
That being said, studies have noted positive links between education and social issues - for instance, providing young women with some secondary education can reduce infant and child mortality rates by up to half in some countries while according to DFID, an extra year of good schooling can lift a country's economic growth by one to two percent.
Can Tech Help?
Though not a silver bullet solution, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can and already does play an immense role in providing a gateway to educational tools both in the developing and developed worlds.
In parts of the world where access to the ICTs is greater, tech-based education tools are causing a shift in the way young people learn, thanks to online education apps, e-learning portals and even games.
In parts of the world where access to the internet is minimal or irregular, the ability to provide educational tools via ICTs and new media is reduced. In a 2011 paper submitted to the G8 and G20 summits by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on behalf of UNESCO, the opportunities that ICTs present to supporting universal education for all were outlined. The paper also detailed the access barriers that are present in developing countries with regard to ICT educational tools "...the global digital divide is undermining the transformative power of ICT in education for the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for just one percent of global broadband access".
To highlight exactly how big the digital divide is, the same paper states that "an estimated 17 percent of the developing world’s population uses the internet, compared with 64 percent in the developed world".
While the idea that ICTs may have limited application when it comes to improving access to education in areas where getting online is a challenge is not unfounded, it does discount the various programs and initiatives that work solely to provide access in these areas for this very reason.
Over the next three weeks, we will look at how technology can play a role in boosting access to education for young children as well as the projects and organisations working to bridge the digital divide.