SEATTLE, Washington — Amid the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries across the world have implemented different strategies to address the necessary shift to remote education during the COVID-19 national shutdowns. More developed countries, such as those in North America and Europe, have shifted to online lessons for the remainder of the school year to maintain the flow of schools’ curriculums. However, countries in Latin America are often unable to obtain reliable internet access and thus cannot rely on online solutions to the disruptions in education. Most countries within the region have critically low rates of internet connectivity, particularly within rural communities. According to the Inter-America Development Bank, Colombia, Mexico and Peru all have less than 35% internet connectivity. As a result of low internet access, many Latin American countries have implemented radio and television broadcast lessons to bridge the education gap the pandemic has created.
Latin America and the Internet
The use of the internet in Latin America is drastically different between urban and rural communities, with a 27% digital inequality rate between rural and urban populations. This indicates a more significant issue with internet connectivity throughout the Latin American region and reveals how rural communities are particularly exposed to the risks of an education gap due to quarantines.
Many developing countries, particularly throughout Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia, have used radio and broadcast education since the late 1970s and 1980s because it is easily accessible to the masses and cost-effective to produce. Countries used community educational radio for different purposes, from developments to health education to literacy and mathematics training.
Historical Context of Broadcast Lessons
The implementation of radio education was particularly effective at bridging the education gap between rural and urban communities at earlier points in history. One study in Nicaragua in 1980 showed that children who were taught by radio education scored higher on final evaluations than those who were educated in person, with the largest increase in scores seen in rural children who learned via radio as opposed to their rural control groups.
Radio education has historically proven to be beneficial in developing countries, especially in educating low-income rural communities that consistently lack access to educational and technological services. This way of learning could continue to be helpful for low-income families today. Amid the global pandemic, rural communities can look to broadcast lessons as a convenient and cost-effective method to maintain children’s’ education.
Risks and Modern Innovations
Children are particularly affected by the coronavirus shutdowns, with 95% of children being forced out of traditional schools. This puts 80 million Latin American children at risk of missing school meals and either falling behind in or dropping out of school. These implications lower these children’s living standards in the present, continue the cruel cycle of poverty and stunt national economic development in the future. Therefore, the reimplementation of educational radio and television programs in 2020 is a critical move to bridge this education gap and prevent an entire generation of students from falling behind in their studies.
Multiple telecommunication strategies have been developed across countries to address this issue. Cuba is running state television channels dedicated to different subjects. Chile has allied with the global nonprofit Teach for All to develop a podcast that broadcasts over 200 radio stations daily. Many rural teachers are even improvising by independently creating videos or instructions for home education to distribute to their students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a glaring light on numerous social issues across the globe. Educational inequality, low internet accessibility and the economic divide between rural and urban communities have all been subject to greater policy analysis and discussion. Many Latin American societies have demonstrated a critical lack of online infrastructure and internet accessibility.
The COVID-19 crisis has also pushed many countries to adapt their approach to remote education and accelerate their development of internet connectivity infrastructures, focusing primarily on rural communities. One such program that works to improve internet connectivity in rural communities is Internet para Todos (IpT), or “Internet for Everyone.” IpT is a collaboration between Telefonica, Facebook, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America. It focuses on expanding 4G internet access in rural portions of Latin America. IpT has already constructed 3,130 towers throughout Peru and plans to connect 6 million people within 30,000 rural locations throughout Peru by 2021.
These continued innovations in internet connectivity from states and independent organizations will provide online access to rural communities across Latin America. Additionally, these efforts will give governments a greater ability to close the education gap between rural and urban communities and between in-person and remote learning platforms. As a result of these movements, countries are experiencing great success with broadcast lessons and bridging the education gap in Latin America.
– Ian Hawthorne