Image credits: Dennis Sylvester Hurd
News Article

Limited Computer Access Challenge to Remote Education

By Jan Hogewoning | Tue, 08/11/2020 - 17:08

According to the OECD, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated socio-economic inequalities in Latin America, CNN Español writes. OECD data indicates that only 34 percent of students at primary school, 41 percent at high school and 68 percent in higher education have access to a computer that is connected to the internet at home. This presents significant challenges in the area of remote education, an essential activity in the ongoing pandemic.

On Aug. 3, Mexico’s Minister of Economy announced that the school year of 2020-2021 would commence on Aug. 24 through television classes. Students will only go back to face-to-face classes if the COVID-19 traffic light, the system of colors that indicates the threat level of the pandemic, drops to green. Considering the lack of internet access, television was designated as a primary medium to provide education. On that same day, Milenio reported, the government signed an agreement with Grupo Multimedios, TV Azteca, Televisa and Imagen Televisión to broadcast educational material 24/7. The material will cover 16 different school education degrees and is expected to reach around 30 million students, CNN Español writes. The government stated that 94 percent of Mexican households have access to television. In communities without television, efforts will be made to transmit material through radio. The plan is to evaluate students on their performance, though the exact methods are not yet entirely clear.

This drastic and innovative change in education will eventually morph into what the education minister called a hybrid education model, which will remain even after the pandemic. This will combine both face-to-face and remote education. The acceleration in redefining education channels could present a major opportunity to reinvent Mexico’s school systems. Digital channels could provide access to high quality content from any location in the country with a TV or radio connection. On the other hand, there are obvious limitations to interaction between teachers and students. Students with laptops will remain at a significant advantage.

In conversation with MBN, Simon Harrsen, Country Director for IT asset leasing and management company CHG Meridian, states: “I absolutely believe modern IT infrastructure for schools is more important than ever amid the pandemic.” In the past, CHG Meridian has participated in projects with universities and school by leasing iPads or laptops to the school, which are included in the students’ tuition. This may seem unattractive, especially for students from lower income backgrounds. However, the alternative would be to buy the equipment. “A lot of families do not have the money to purchase [laptops], so they could rent instead or get it in the tuition, for a lower price,” said Harrsen. With the volume of assets leased by school systems, there would be an option to offer discounts, he says.

Raising tuition is hard to envision in a country where many schools have a majority of students living under the poverty line. One potential alternative is the use of smartphones, which have a higher penetration of about 89 percent of the Mexican population. The sharing of videos, messages and voice messages with educational material is already a widespread practice among teachers at the moment. However, according to Observatorio Tec, which reported on several cases of different schools around the country, the mobile is far from ideal. Students and parents with smartphones, it states, often do not have enough data to constantly be online. Moreover, they may have no Wi-Fi connections available. In other cases, the report states, many of the activities sent through this medium were not completed by students.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
CNN Español, Milenio, Mexico Business News, Observatorio Tec
Photo by:   Dennis Sylvester Hurd
Jan Hogewoning Jan Hogewoning Journalist and Industry Analyst