COVID-19 has accelerated efforts to rapidly develop online delivery models for learning, skills building, and mentoring. But many youth living in low bandwidth areas have no or limited access to these resources. A UNICEF joint study estimates 2.2 billion people — or two-thirds of children and young people under age 25 — do not have internet access at home.
Different delivery models can address the bandwidth challenge and create an engaging experience while recognizing the local particularities of learners. But the nature of online delivery models depends on the level of bandwidth and the level of interaction needed between students and instructors.
1) Creating downloadable content
eGranary Digital Library, founded in 2001 and developed by WiderNet at the University of North Carolina, is an offline collection of over 35 million digital resources for learners that lack a sufficient internet connection. The eGranary Digital Library enables downloading a large portion of educational web documents onto the institutions’ local area network so that learners within the institution can access the resources without the internet. Today, eGranary installations span across schools, clinics, and universities in Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Haiti.For example the
2) Using low-cost hardware
UK-based charity Raspberry Pi Foundation makes the Raspberry Pi, a small computer that runs on the free operating system Linux and is powered by a USB phone charger. Learners just need to have a mouse, a keyboard, and a TV monitor. Over 30 million Raspberry Pi computers have been sold, with more than 10,000 coding clubs around the world reaching some 150,000 young people every week.
3) Compressing lessons
Some companies are compressing lessons into smaller units that can be completed in less time and require less data.
Funzi, a Finnish mobile learning company, offers low-bandwidth courses through funzi.mobi for any internet-connected mobile device and any mobile browser. The courses, which are suitable for slower networks, are built around bite-sized units that allow users to self-pace their learning in small portions.
EVERY1MOBILE, a social enterprise that develops digital solutions for interactive learning, optimized its digital platform for mobile phones in low resource settings and is accessible on any mobile phone. Its courses can be specifically customized to people with low literacy and low digital literacy. An entire learning journey is only 5-10 megabytes, and the bite-sized course design approach allows learners to complete courses within 10-15 minutes.
4) Employing mobile vans
Another approach is to reach remote populations where they live. Save the Children’s Skills to Succeed program uses a Mobile Training Centre (MTC) to help marginalized youth in Bangladesh gain digital skills. The MTC is a big van equipped with computers and internet access through 3G/4G portable router access points. The MTC is able to reach populations that face low bandwidth, lack of access to computers, high transportation costs, and lack of tailored face-to-face interaction with teachers. And Skills to Succeed’s course design allows learners to complete courses within six weeks, provided they visit the MTC daily.
5) Leveraging ad hoc digital networks
Where regular broadband connection is not possible, ad hoc digital networks can provide a short-term solution.
DakNet technology, developed by MIT Media Lab researchers and commercialized by the United Villages company, is a wireless ad hoc network that can provide connectivity at a relatively low cost to villages without digital communication infrastructures. It transmits data over short point-to-point links between kiosks and portable storage devices, called mobile access points (MAPs). When a MAP-equipped vehicle comes into range with a wifi-enabled kiosk, it automatically uploads and downloads all data. Then, low-cost wifi radio transceivers automatically transfer the data from the MAP at high bandwidth to each point-to-point connection. A single vehicle passing by a small village once per day is sufficient to provide information service.
While the long run solution is to accelerate broadband access for all, in the short to medium term, youth employment organizations need to use agile and innovative solutions to ensure that people in remote areas, who are often already poor and disadvantaged, aren’t further marginalized. This is especially important now, as the world of work and learning increasingly adopts online delivery models in the wake of the pandemic.