Unesco and Dubai Cares tackle learning inequalities in digital age

Declaration devoted to ensuring access to education is not limited by advances in technology

Stefania Giannini, assistant director general for Education UNESCO at the Rewired Summit. Ruel Pableo for The National

Dubai is backing a global mission to tackle learning inequalities and deliver access to education for all in the digital age.

Dubai Cares, a philanthropic group, has joined forces with Unesco to ensure teaching practices keep pace with advances in technology. They will also promote more investment in free digital education content.

The two organisations have developed the RewirEd Declaration on Connectivity for Education in an effort to ensure no learner is left behind during a growing shift to online teaching at a time when close to half of the world's population is still without internet connectivity at home.

The partnership was announced at the RewirEd education conference at Expo 2020 Dubai on Tuesday.

“Although most countries have now rapidly moved towards remote learning, we still have over 1.3 billion children aged three to 17 who still don't have access to connectivity at their homes,” said Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares.

“It is, in fact, estimated that just under half of all households in the world have no internet connection today.

“This represents a learning inequality of the greatest proportions that can have a lasting effect on the future.

“With education becoming increasingly digital, the negative consequences of the structure and inequities increase. Therefore, as the speed of digitalisation rises, the urgency to bridge the digital divide on connected or connected individuals does.”

He said creating the declaration took more than 14 months in a process steered by Unesco.

The declaration was created with the input of a 22-person group of expert advisers and a global consultation process, involving governments, civil society, young people, teachers, researchers and private sector companies.

Mr Al Gurg said the pandemic magnified the divide that exists between those who are connected and those who are not.

“Let us remember that one small virus caused one of the biggest crises of our time, resulting in a global lockdown for the 1.6 billion children and youth and over 16 million teachers out of academic institutions in more than 190 countries,” said Mr Al Gurg.

Technology must face no barriers

Stefania Giannini, assistant director general for education at Unesco, speaking during the RewirEd summit in Dubai.  Ruel Pableo for The National

Stefania Giannini, assistant director general for education at Unesco, said that too often technology and innovation benefited the privileged, so the declaration would focus on those who had been left behind.

“We must find new balance and must find new ways that work for the most in need of opportunities, for refugees, for students with disabilities, for girls and women and for teachers in remote areas,” said Ms Giannini.

She said this must be the starting point, not an afterthought.

“The second point is to expand investment in open, free and high-quality digital education content,” she said.

She said online connectivity must open doors, not be a barrier.

She said the declaration would also look at innovation in the way children were taught.

She said the world needed to stop replicating models of in-person schooling in digital spaces and work on interacting with children.

“It's about personalising learning pathways, rather than one size fits all,” she said.

Updated: December 15th 2021, 3:30 AM