Why Are Some Countries Slow To Adopt Digital Learning?
In terms of dollars invested, the leaders in edtech adoption are the United States and China, with Western Europe and many countries in Asia close behind. In 2018, the United States invested close to $2 billion in edtech and China made an investment of more than $3 billion. Investment in Europe was a bit less than a billion dollars, but it is expected to pick up rapidly in the coming years.
All of this begs the question, what is happening in Latin America, South Asia, and Africa? Why aren’t countries in these regions investing in edtech? What barriers are there to the adoption of digital learning?
One key reason why developing countries lag behind in the investment and implementation of digital learning is because of a lack of key infrastructure. The first main barrier is reliable electrical power. Of the nearly eight billion people in the world, approximately one billion of them do not have access to electricity, and even more people in the developing world do not have access to reliable electricity.
The second barrier is high-speed internet access available in homes and schools. While many people in developing countries have access to the internet via cybercafes or access points in public places or via their cell phones, many people do not have access at their place of study or at their homes. A quick look at the number of fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 people shows that the number of subscriptions in North America is more than the number in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub Saharan Africa combined. A lack of access to high-speed internet at home and school results in a digital divide that is ever increasing.
Investment in Education
According to the OECD, most countries invest about a bit more than three percent of their GDP in education, but three percent of the United States’ GDP is quite different from Mexico’s GDP. For example, the United States spends approximately $12,500 USD per year/per student, while Mexico spends about $3,000 USD per year/per student.
While it is hard to pin down how much money is invested in edtech spending per student as purchasing decisions are made at the district and state level, it is safe to say that developing countries have little left over to invest in edtech once they have covered the basic categories involved in providing public education, such as teacher salaries, infrastructure maintenance, and educational materials.
Culture of Education
Another important aspect to consider is the status of education in a particular country or culture. This status can be seen through the amount of private investment in education as well as the value of teachers and their continuous professional development. In many developing countries, the gaps in the public and private education system make it difficult to attract, educate and adequately pay highly qualified teachers. This is then coupled with a lack of funding for professional development in all areas, including educational technology.
Also, education policy has a direct impact on investment and implementation of digital learning technologies. Countries like China with highly centralized planning and a willingness to invest can quickly ramp up the purchase and integration of edtech in their countries.
As citizens in developing countries gain access to the internet through mobile phones, the hope is that the digital divide will shrink. However, there is quite a leap between being able to access social media from your phone and having the opportunity to experiment with the innovations coming out of the edtech industry in the classroom. Only time will tell if developing countries are able to close the digital divide in their education systems.