A total of 1.3 billion children aged three to 17-years-old, or two-thirds of the world’s school age-children, do not have internet access in their homes, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said on Tuesday.
In a joint report from UNICEF and ITU, nearly a quarter of a billion students worldwide are still affected by COVID-19 school closures, forcing hundreds of millions of students to rely on virtual learning.
“That so many children and young people have no internet at home is more than a digital gap –it is a digital canyon. Lack of connectivity doesn’t just limit children and young people’s ability to connect online. It prevents them from competing in the modern economy. It isolates them from the world,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.
“In the event of school closures, such as those currently experienced by millions due to COVID-19, it causes them to lose out on education. Put bluntly: lack of internet access is costing the next generation their futures,” Fore added.
The report said that those children with no internet access, the education for them can be out of reach.
Meanwhile, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said connecting rural populations to internet connection remains a formidable challenge.
“The gap in the mobile broadband adoption and internet use between developed and developing countries is especially large, putting the almost 1.3 billion school-age children mostly from low-income countries and rural regions at risk of missing out on their education because they lack access to the internet at home,” Zhao said.
The report said school-age children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the most affected with nine in 10 children are unconnected.
In the latest ITU data, low digital skills remain a barrier to meaningful participation in a digital society, while mobile telephony and internet access remain too expensive for many in the developing world as the result of vast disparities in purchasing power.
However, the UNICEF said even when children have an internet connection at home, they may not be able to access it due to several factors such as pressure to do chores or to work, lack of sufficient devices in the households, girls being permitted less or no internet access, and lack of understanding of how to access opportunities online.
“There are also issues related to online safety since parents may be inadequately prepared to keep their children safe,” the agency added.