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Digital Divides and Equity

(by Thérèse Laferrière, Miri Shonfeld, and Paul Resta)

© Flickr/Beyond Access

Thérèse Laferrière, Director of the Center for Research and Intervention for Student and School Success (CRI_SAS)/Centre de recherche et d’intervention sur la réussite scolaire (CRIRES), Université Laval, Québec, Canada.
Miri Shonfeld, Head of the TEC Center (Technology, Education, and Cultural Diversity), MOFET Institute, and Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Paul Resta, Ruth Knight Millikan Centennial Professor of Learning Technologies, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin, USA.
Thematic Working Group 4, EDUsummIT 2015, Bangkok

“Evidence shows that LCRs ['learner-to-computer connected’] are generally decreasing across many countries, while school Internet rates are increasing – both generally and for fixed broadband specifically. However, change is not uniform and occurs at different rates in different countries. Typically, countries that have strong policies and set targets for ICT in education with high-level government [officials] and sector-wide support show the most rapid change (ITU, 2014, p. 75).”

“While in general it must be seen as advantageous to have more computers for fewer students, it is not clear what the ideal ratio might be. This will depend a lot on national circumstances [or local contexts] and on how computers are used; it is suggested that more research be conducted in respect to this [ratio]” (Ib.)

In light of technological developments and the expected opportunities for the education sector, the issue of the digital inequity and divide becomes critical. One may sum this up by saying: The rich get richer.  For instance, countries where citizens have a higher income tend to have lower Internet connectivity costs. This fact is being highlighted by Davis and colleagues (2015) in their own EDUsummIT  discussion paper on Smart Partnerships. Applied to classroom dynamics, it means that the most competent teachers tend to engage students with ICTs in ways leading to better learning outcomes. And the more curious and participative students are those more inclined to use ICTs for learning and academic achievement. Research (Becker & Riel, 2000; Tamim et al., 2011) persistently states that the teacher’s pedagogy makes the difference: technology used as « support for cognition » has greater effect than technology used for « presentation of content ». Therefore, bringing the technology and connectivity to schools, despite the great funds, time and energy it requires, is only part of the equation. In other words, context, including curriculum, classroom routines, teacher roles, and evaluation practices, cannot be overlooked in developed as well as in developing contexts.

The issue is even greater in developing contexts as there is less resources available to invest in digital technology acquisition, and teacher education tends to be less informed by research. Internet resources help teachers enrich their lessons and students to push further ahead in their inquiries (MIT, 2015). However, MIT website is primarily used by North American teachers and students (44%), followed by Asia-Pacific (20%), and European countries (17%).  Worldwide students and self-learners are the main users (85%). Open educational resources (OERs) are multiplying for all education levels, and the hope is that they will benefit formal and informal education in developing countries. Meanwhile, it is our collective moral obligation to uncover the dynamics of what is required for ICT use, and especially OERs, to make a real difference when it comes to teachers’ and students’ learning outcomes. 

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, 2009) has published, after extensive consultation, essential conditions for technology-enhanced learning (TEL). Referring to these conditions, the members of the Thematic Working Group 4 (TWG4) have written to this point eleven (11) short case studies for the EDUsummIT 2015 on the theme of Addressing Gaps and Promoting Educational Equity. The following lines demonstrate the diversity of creative ways of ensuring the presence of the essential conditions in a given context:

·    Shared vision. Partners’ visions ranged from “providing colleges better access to information and communications technology in order to improve teaching and learning” (Senegal) to “providing teachers and teacher educators with a collection of curated open and free digital contents as well as productivity tools which are primarily developed for countries with low internet penetration (UNESCO).

·    Empowered leaders. This condition ranges from a focus on technology expertise to social positioning for implementing effective change: “The principals, the teachers and the students were regarded as the focus in the development of the SELTAS, an e-learning platform.”(HK); “Principals and teachers from Native American schools, faculty from two universities and leaders from U.S. Dept. of Interior” (USA).

·    Implementation planning. Often focused on learning ICTs and/or learning with ICTs, planning involved working with partners as diverse as “teacher educators” and “Ministry of Education” (Israel), secondary schools (Saint Viateur and Sig-Noghin),  “la maison des savoirs” (the house of knowledge) (Burkina Faso), and “dedicated personnel provid[ing] links and possible support at local and national levels” (UK).

·    Equitable access. “An ipad for each teacher as well as a wide angle camera for synchronous video sessions” (Israel); “laptops (in trollies for mobile classes) or desk computer, … and a frame for internet access” (Senegal);  access through “a cybercenter of the municipality [with] fluctuating broadband access to Internet” (Burkina Faso); “considering the status of ICT infrastructure in the region’s least developed countries … CD-ROMs or USB flash drives are used as the primary medium for distributing the resources so that these can be installed on desktop computers and laptops without the need of internet connectivity.” (UNESCO).

·    Skilled personnel. The presence of the university (research & teaching) stands out in more than half the cases.

·    Ongoing professional development. Onsite training dominates. Onsite activities are either combined with online activities, or they complement online training activities. Community of practice/professional learning community and networks are new forms of professional development being used.

·    Technical support. This condition is evolving in two ways: teachers take a greater role at the technical level and online support is gaining ground.

·    Student-centered learning. The orientation of innovative practice is clearly toward student-centered learning in all of the countries. 

·    Assessment and evaluation. The evaluation of leadership is overlooked. Student learning was assessed the most, followed by teaching, including resources for teaching and learning.

·    Engaged communities. Different players from the community may be involved in order to implement a project: “Parents and school teachers [to] be given a monthly debriefing of the student’s progress” (Israel); “parents” (Hong Kong); “student/ teacher/business community” (Australia); “parents, local third-parties, and businesses” (Canada).

The ten above conditions were perceived by the writers of the cases as present at a level of 70% or higher (maximum 83%). The four less present conditions were also reflected by a variety of innovative practices: 

·     Consistent and adequate funding. During a project, “all phases” (Burkina Faso) were financed, and later “participating schools in the network are seeking further funding opportunity” (Hong Kong). “The use of freeware and shareware, and ubiquitous hardware and access whenever possible” (Australia). Funding may come from a “university” or the private enterprise (UNESCO).

·     Curriculum framework. “It is in the curriculum framework but brings new ideas and a new pedagogy” (Israel); “culturally responsive curriculum that embedded the resident cultural knowledge and practices into the local curriculum (USA).

·     Support policies. “The project is a response to the “one curriculum for all” principle put forward by the Curriculum Development Council” (Hong Kong); “Some Resource Distribution and Training Centres have incorporated UNESCO resources in their regular teacher education curriculum as well as other external training programme (UNESCO).

·     Supportive external context. “The project received the support of the team [from a distant university] (Burkina Faso); “a research centre from a local university … enthusiastic special schools, and received funding from the government. External experts from overseas were also involved” (Hong Kong); “official authorities support the program ideology. Third party organizations are getting involved” (Israel); “partners such as Microsoft or Intel or national companies operating in the ICT sector” (Senegal); “local organizations” (UNESCO).

To sum up, the ISTE essential conditions are present at a maximum of 85% in the cases written by TGW4 members. Given that these cases may be considered as exemplary local practices in developed and developing countries, this means that ICT pioneers and early adopters have engaged in a mammoth task, one that requires partnerships and collaboration within and beyond local education systems. It is fortunate that the Internet, its users as well as its tools offer so many opportunities for collaborative educational endeavours. While developed countries must move beyond the boundaries of the “silos” of the socio-technical infrastructures in place, collaborative ventures and structures are likely to help developing countries to make a giant leap. Provided that digital equity is a shared value, partnerships and smart collaborations can bring us closer together.



Becker, H., & Riel, M. (2000). Teacher professional engagement and constructivist-compatible computer use. Report #7 Teaching, Learning and Computing: 1998: National Survey. Retrieved from  

Davis, N., & Erstad, O. (2015). Smart partnerships. Available at

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (2014). Final WSIS Targets Review – Achievements, challenges and the way forward. Retrieved on July 26th from

ISTE (2009).  Essential conditions. Retrieved on July 10 from

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (2015). See


Contact info: Laferrière Thérèse,; Miri Shonfeld,; Paul Resta,


Note: The opinions expressed in the articles included in this newsletter are those of the authors and editors, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of UNESCO, nor of any particular Division or Office.