I first visited the small town of Mănăstirea in rural Romania in 2010. Around 5,000 people lived in the underdeveloped community with poor sanitation, transport infrastructure and high unemployment, yet almost everyone, including school kids, had a mobile phone.
Now in 2016, nearly every household in Mănăstirea is connected with fixed broadband and most people have smartphones too – though there has been a lack of economic and social improvement since my first visit.
To narrow this unbalanced development, a small association of volunteers was established to take advantage of the connectivity in rural Romania to enhance the quality of life and particularly education, providing free self-study apps such as OneBillion, e-book libraries and digital art workshops.
That is just one example of how the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” can greatly benefit from ICTs, especially in underprivileged parts of the world. Though the global digital divide is still pervasive, over the past few decades, we have witnessed teachers and learners in developing world become empowered through enhanced connectivity, free access to knowledge and affordable hardware.
Broadband connectivity can make good quality education easily and freely available everywhere. Many learners from low and middle income countries develop University-level skills and knowledge through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), with higher course completion rates than their developed world counterparts. As smartphones and tablets become more affordable, even learners in remote areas can enjoy wide selection of education apps and contents.
In order to benefit from the potential of ICTs in education, schools must also be able to provide the relevant knowledge and skills. ITU, as an UN special agency in ICT, also has promoted the use of ICTs for education through its various initiatives such as ‘Connect a School, Connect a Community’ and International Girls in ICT, a global effort to raise awareness and encourage girls and young women to consider studies and careers in ICT.
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