A new report has shown that, globally, 2.2 billion children and young people aged 25 years or less do not have an internet connection at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report states that despite progress in providing access to education in recent decades, a global learning crisis persists and hundreds of millions of children are still being left behind.
It was jointly published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Telecommunication Union ( ITU).
According to the report titled, ‘How Many Children and Young People Have Internet Access at Home? Estimating digital connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic’, “globally, 2.2 billion children and young people aged 25 years or less – two-thirds of children and young people worldwide – do not have an internet connection at home.”
“More than two-thirds of school-age girls and boys aged approximately three to 17 years (1.3 billion children) and 63 percent of youths aged 15 to 24 years (almost 760 million youths) lack internet access at home.
“768 million children and young people aged 25 years or less who lack internet access live in South Asia. In the regions of East Asia and Pacific, West and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa, more than 300 million children and young people per region lack home internet access, totaling more than 900 million without access.
“There is marked inequality in internet connectivity across the world’s regions. Only five percent of children and young people aged 25 years or less in West and Central Africa, and just 13 percent in South Asia and in Eastern and Southern Africa, have internet access at home, compared to 59 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”
The report further states the “differences in access to the internet are even starker between rich and poor countries. Among children and young people aged 25 years or less only six per cent in low-income countries have internet access at home, compared to 87 per cent in high-income countries.
“A large difference is also seen globally in levels of home internet access between children and young people who live in rural areas (25 percent) and their urban peers (41 per cent).”
The rural – urban digital divide
“Given the vast number of children and young people aged 25 years or less without access to the internet at home, it is important to identify the factors that contribute to this lack of connectivity. An equity analysis based on sex, area of residence, and family socioeconomic status confirmed that internet access at home is strongly determined by place of residence and household wealth.
“However, the presence of a rural-urban digital gap is in many ways a function of a country’s income level. The data show that inequities in home internet access between children and young people aged 25 years or less from rural and urban areas are almost non-existent in high-income countries, but they are much more noticeable in low-, lower- and upper-middle-income settings.”
Household wealth and internet access
“Wealth is an important driver of access to digital technology at home. The data show clear differences between richer and poorer countries, as well as between the richest and poorest households within countries, in terms of the share of children and young people aged 25 years or less with access to the internet.
“Lack of internet access is most acute for the poorest children and young people aged 25 years or less in low- and lower-middle-income countries; moreover, within lower-middle-income countries, there is a 39-percentage-point gap in access between the poorest and richest households.
“Upper-middle-income countries demonstrate the highest inequity between the richest and poorest households: while 82 per cent of children and young people aged 25 years or Less from the wealthiest households have internet access at home, only 28 percent of their counterparts from the poorest households do.
“This pattern is also seen in high-income countries, where 97 percent of children and young people from wealthy households have internet access at home, compared to only 74 percent of their poorest peers.
“The disparity in home internet access among children and young people aged 25 years or less from the richest and poorest quintiles is most pronounced in the East Asia and Pacific region, where the gap exceeds 60 percentage
points. Notably, in West and Central Africa, only one percent of the poorest children and young people have an internet connection at home.”
Connectivity in sub-Saharan Africa
“The most critical disparities in home internet access are observed among children and young people in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in terms of household wealth and residence in rural versus urban areas.
“Evidence drawn from UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, which track the 15- to 24-year-old age group, highlights that in some countries in the region, home internet access among the poorest 20 percent of households is either non-existent or almost non-existent, largely due to a lack of infrastructure in rural areas.
“While children and young people from wealthier, urban households in several sub-Saharan countries enjoy high rates of internet access, most of their peers from poor, rural households do not. This digital divide substantially undermines the ability of young people from poor households in rural areas to gain the competencies necessary to build a better future for themselves.”
The report recommended that “significantly expanding internet access in homes, communities and schools is vital to ensure that this and subsequent generations of children and young people can acquire the knowledge and skills they need to support a sustainable future.
“With education systems investing in hybrid and remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly clear that this lack of connectivity is a barrier that will prevent children and young people from accessing effective and interactive forms of learning going forward.”