The pandemic has made an everlasting impact on every single industry. Education is no exception. According to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 50% of public schools are fully open for in-person classes in the United States. The remaining 50% offer either a hybrid model or remote learning only.* COVID-19 forced schools across the globe to quickly digitize their classes and curricula. As lecture halls and libraries were left desolate, teachers and students adjusted to the new normal of instructing and learning through computer screens. “Home” became synonymous with “classroom.”
This begs the question: What makes remote learning successful, and how can philanthropy help level the playing field for disadvantaged students?
Providing fair and equal access to eLearning on a national level has proved challenging. We must take the time to understand what has worked well and what needs to be improved in the future.
As the CEO of Preply, an online learning platform that connects more than 40,000 bookable tutors teaching 50 languages to hundreds of thousands of learners in 180 countries worldwide, we are committed to shaping the future of effective learning. We are passionate about the benefits of learning remotely with 1:1 human instruction, for both learners and instructors.
Throughout the past year, we have witnessed a sharp spike in the demand for eLearning courses. Online learning was already an integral part of many forms of education, particularly in vocational and adult courses, and COVID-19 has centered its role in national education.
That’s why we conducted a study on “The countries best prepared for the shift to online learning,” which compared 30 different countries’ digital education systems throughout the pandemic. These countries are part of the Organization of Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD).** We wanted to understand what factors play a part in making eLearning a success (or a challenge) for school systems and their students.
9 Factors That Influence Online Learning
The study compared 9 different factors that influence online learning:
- Access to computers: percentage of the total population with access to a private computer
- Distance learning courses: the range of study programs and courses that can be carried out and completed entirely online
- Education expenditure: share of gross domestic product per capita which the state spends on tertiary education
- Broadband internet speed: average download speed over broadband
- Mobile internet speed: average download speed over mobile data
- Costs: average monthly cost of broadband internet access
- Market growth: based on internal data from Preply
- Tutoring: average hourly wage of a tutor
- Market volume: total number of enrolled students, pupils in primary and secondary education, and preschoolers
So, how did the U.S. fare amongst the group? Some of the results may surprise you.
- The United States offers 9,303 online degree programs and courses that can be taken entirely online—the most of the 30 countries—with almost 78 million students enrolled. In comparison, Canada and Australia have only 1/10th of the number of students.
- The United States sank to the number 12 position in part due to its lack of government spending on tertiary (higher) education per student. While the U.S. rate is 19% GDP per capita, high-ranking countries such as Denmark and Sweden make a more significant investment at 43%.
- Of the group, the United States also has the second-highest average monthly cost of broadband internet access, with New Zealand earning the top spot for most expensive.
- Only 72% of students in the United States have access to a computer, compared to 95% in Norway and 98% in the Netherlands. Turkey (50%) and Mexico (44%) represent the lower end of the spectrum.
- The U.S. also has moderate mobile internet speed, coming in at 44.3Mbit/s. For comparison, the best rate was 73.7Mbit/s (the Netherlands), and the worst was 18.5Mbit/s (Chile).
- At an average of $18.83 per hour, tutors in the U.S. are the 18th most expensive, falling roughly in the middle between Denmark’s $35 and Mexico’s $3.89 rates.
As the numbers demonstrate, digital education can only be as robust and accessible as the technological infrastructure in its country of use. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that access to digital education is unequally distributed, but that there are ample opportunities to begin investing in the digital infrastructure necessary for a national shift to online learning.
When thinking about how philanthropy can help students with online learning, consider the following:
- Find local city-specific organizations that focus on providing Internet connectivity for households that struggle to pay for it. As our study demonstrates, broadband access, speed and costs are critical to a student’s access to remote education.
- Look into organizations that help provide iPads and laptops to communities in need. Without these devices, children and their parents are left scrambling for a solution, ultimately putting students at risk of falling behind.
- The government plays a tremendous role in students’ education. Research how tax dollars are being allocated for education. Then, decide how donations can best help influence critical decisions, programs and opportunities that are in students’ favor.
Here at Preply, we believe that eLearning has great potential to improve educational opportunities worldwide. Together, we can shape the future.
*Institute of Education Sciences Monthly School Survey Dashboard
**Due to lack of data and in order to ensure comparability, the OECD member states Colombia, Iceland, Korea, Lithuania, Latvia, Israel, and Slovenia could not be included in the analysis.