Lack of skills biggest barrier in digital learning: OUP study

New Delhi: Limited digital skills, lack of digital competency and engaging students were some of the barriers teachers faced while conducting online classes during Covid times, according to a study by Oxford University Press (OUP).
The report, “Addressing the Deepening Digital Divide”, is based on the views of 1,557 school and English language teachers from India and 91 other countries on the digital divide, including the barriers to effective teaching and learning, and the impact of the divide on learners’ development.
Sixty eight per cent of the teachers cited that limited digital skills are nearly as great a problem as access to technology: poor digital access (i.e. physical access to the internet or a device) was the biggest barrier to digital learning.
A lack of digital competency ranked a close second, with 56 per cent of the respondents saying that teachers and learners alike lacked the skills to make digital learning a success.
Engaging students in online lessons was a bigger challenge than costs, education funding, or digital infrastructure. Teachers felt their greatest challenge during the pandemic was engaging students in online lessons – a difficulty reported by six in 10 teachers (61 per cent).
Disadvantaged students have been significantly affected by the shift to digital learning with 70 per cent of teachers saying the most disadvantaged students lost learning due to limited or no access to digital devices. Forty four per cent of the respondents felt that the wellbeing of disadvantaged students had been particularly negatively affected during the pandemic.
The survey also found that teachers want parents to play a bigger role in their child’s digital learning. Half of the teachers surveyed (50 per cent) said a lack of parental understanding of digital tools/platforms limited the effectiveness of support available to their children; and 58 per cent said disadvantaged students tended to receive less educational support from their parents and families. In view of this study, OUP has made a few recommendations to address the deepening digital divide – greater focus on independent learning; building digital competency skills among educators, students, and parents; and targeting resources to address both ends of the digital divide. Talking about the study, Nigel Portwood, OUP CEO said the world of education continues to undergo significant digital transformation, and yet so many learners are being left behind because of the digital divide.
“And as our research shows, it isn’t just about ensuring people have access to the relevant devices, or improving connectivity; unless we fill skills gaps and make sure teachers, learners, and parents know how to use digital tools effectively, the digital divide will only continue to grow,” he said.
Adding to this, Fathima Dada, managing director of OUP’s Education Division, said: “It is imperative that governments and policy experts come together on a global scale to address the issues identified in our report. We know where the problems lie, and we now need a forward-looking approach to fix them.”
According to Sumanta Datta, managing director of OUP India (OUPI), though there has been a rapid adoption of digital mediums in education across learners in the Indian subcontinent, access to the best content has not been inclusive. “Digital education platforms are expensive and out of reach for most middle-income families. Digital content and teaching capabilities vary greatly between private and public schools. In addition, the lack of quality vernacular content, widens the divide between students in urban and rural communities. There is an urgent need for an inclusive education eco-system to address these gaps,” he said.

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