Online learning out of reach for millions of students

May 1, 2020

UNESCO, the United Nations’ education agency, released data on April 21 revealing that half of all children currently out of school due to stay-at-home orders do not have access to a computer, and forty percent do not have access to the internet. Globally, with roughly 1.5 billion students affected by stay-at-home orders, that means nearly 830 million students have no way to access online education resources while at home. School closures disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged, notes Ford School professor Brian Jacob, in Global Citizen.

"This is going to mean that low-income and disadvantaged students fall further behind their more advantaged peers," Jacob said. "This is not unique to COVID. In any natural disaster that disrupts standard social service systems, including education, the disadvantaged are going to be hurt disproportionately because they have fewer other resources to call on," he added. 

UNESCO has launched a Global Education Coalition to try and address some of the education challenges facing students during this crisis. Alternative routes of reaching low-income and disadvantaged children, such as radio and television, are being explored. 

"I'm hoping that this COVID pandemic, and this kind of attention placed on it, will lead to action on the part of government agencies, nonprofits, or others to try to increase technology access," Jacob said.

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Brian A. Jacob is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy and professor of economics at the Ford School, and is co-director of the Youth Policy Lab. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Brian came to Michigan from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; he previously served as a policy analyst in the NYC Mayor's Office and taught middle school in East Harlem. His primary fields of interest are labor economics, program evaluation, and the economics of education. He received a BA from Harvard University in 1992 and a PhD in public policy from the University of Chicago.