The Straits Time says

TV networks bringing schools to homes

To their credit, schools have done their best not to let the coronavirus outbreak interfere with education. A cascade of school closures across the world last year forced nearly 1.4 billion students to stay out of classrooms as the pandemic raged. But technology allowed the learning to go on and the schools moved, in a matter of weeks, to virtual classrooms. This remarkably successful instance of educational innovation remains hobbled, however, by a disparity in connectivity. About 60 per cent of the world's population, some 4.5 billion people, are estimated to have access to the Internet. But not surprisingly, the penetration tends to be less than 50 per cent in the middle- and low-income nations where access to computers for schoolwork also lags behind. An OECD study found that while 95 per cent of students in Switzerland, Norway and Austria used a computer, only 34 per cent of their counterparts in Indonesia did. And even within the richer countries, there exists a pronounced digital divide that disadvantages the less affluent.

Many nations have been able to bridge the connectivity gap through television networks which have emerged as crucial spokes of study from home programmes. Some are pumping more content through educational TV stations, an idea that debuted at Iowa State University in 1950. Others are setting up new channels. China began to broadcast lessons on state TV to help 180 million students while schools were closed for a few months. India set up 51 new channels that televise only school curricula to help 260 million students. Indonesia plugged in educational programming five days a week on its national television for 68 million children affected by the closure of half a million schools across the archipelago. Malaysia last week announced it was setting up a TV channel dedicated to education, recognising that it can reach more than 90 per cent of households this way. The channel will beef up efforts of other TV stations that are already airing content for the benefit of nearly five million schoolchildren.

Over the past year, the combined phenomenon of study and work from home has fed the demand for a range of educational and training tools, including virtual tutors, language learning apps, online learning and video conferencing software.

The field of education technology was expanding even before the pandemic, with global investments in the sector touching close to US$19 billion (S$25 billion) in 2019. Among others, Microsoft and Google in the United States, Samsung in South Korea, Byju's in India and China's Tencent, Ping An and Alibaba are eyeing opportunities in a market projected to reach US$350 billion by 2025. Efficiency and flexibility in the delivery of education is a welcome trend. This will also help more than 250 million of the world's children and youth who remain excluded from education.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.