CHILDREN INTERNATIONAL: The learning gap & the digital divide

Paola Denise Gil Medrano / Children International

Studies show that education and literacy leads to healthier childhoods, reduces the likelihood of risky behaviors, lowers teen pregnancy rates, and ultimately sets students up to succeed in their local job markets. In short, education is a poverty-busting powerhouse setting children and youth on a path out of poverty. That’s why Children International has education as one of its four key areas of impact.

But getting an education has gotten much more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families in poverty who lost their daily wage jobs and income during the pandemic faced new worries, having trouble paying for school fees and supplies. And remote classes are a new hurdle because in many communities internet connections are unreliable and mobile devices are hard to come by.

To keep children on track and learning, Children International provides much-needed educational opportunities including scholarships and educational grants, as well as virtual tutoring and online workshops to help fill gaps and keep children from falling behind. Children who lack access to technology can receive data package assistance, books and educational materials to complete at home.

Meet Esteban: One student’s story of the learning gap
Esteban was only two semesters away from graduating high school when the pandemic struck. His dreams of going on to college to get his master’s degree in environmental chemistry seemed to drift further away as he and his siblings struggled to share cell phones, do extra small jobs to pay for internet service and encourage each other to keep going.

What frustrated this HOPE scholar the most was how the quality of his education was suffering.

“[I knew] that we were not going to learn as much online as we would in person. The school program was not structured that way,” says 17-year-old Esteban. “And I was right. I worried more about turning in the assignment on time rather than the grade I would get, or even learning. That is what shocked me the most.”

Ultimately, Esteban was able to use funds from his HOPE scholarship to purchase a data plan and school supplies so he could keep studying at home. His family also received direct assistance from Children International when his parents were out of work. “They’ve constantly been helping us with groceries,” Esteban says. His brother was able to access a tablet and a scholarship to study English as well. “They’ve truly been looking out for the families,” Esteban says. He’s been attending additional Children International job-skills training and vocational workshops online as he continues his high school classes.

Without support, many students like Esteban are at risk for falling behind in their studies. Students in low- and lower-middle income countries lost the equivalent of four months of learning since the pandemic began — compared to only six weeks in higher-income areas. As the pandemic continues, Children International’s tutoring programs will help meet this learning gap, while its financial assistance programs will help students purchase necessary remote learning supplies.

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