The learning gap & the digital divide

Coronavirus, Education, Poverty & Literacy

The key to a better future is a good education

Studies show that education and literacy leads to healthier childhoods, reduces the likelihood of risky behaviors, lowers teen pregnancy rates, and ultimately sets students up to succeed in their local job markets. In short, education is a poverty-busting powerhouse setting children and youth on a path out of poverty. That’s why Children International has education as one of its four key areas of impact.

But getting an education has gotten much more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Families in poverty who lost their daily wage jobs and income during the pandemic faced new worries, having trouble paying for school fees and supplies. And remote classes are a new hurdle because in many communities internet connections are unreliable and mobile devices are hard to come by.

  • 1.6 billion children have been impacted by pandemic-era school shutdowns. - The World Economic Forum
  • Schools were closed for a global average of 95 days — basically half a school year — during the first year of the pandemic - UNICEF
  • Pandemic-related education barriers will push 72 million more elementary students into learning poverty (not being able to read by age 10). - The World Bank
  • In the 14 countries that struggled with school closures the most, 168 million students missed almost an entire year of classroom instruction. - UNICEF
  • Because of the pandemic, almost 24 million more students are at risk of dropping out. - The UN
  • Pandemic school closures could knock $10 trillion off this generation’s future lifetime earnings. - The World Bank

The United States may be looking forward to a more “normal” school year this fall, but the situation remains uncertain for many students living in poverty around the globe. Our programs are designed to help children and youth stay in school as long as the coronavirus pandemic continues and after cases subside.

To keep children on track and learning, sponsorship provides much-needed educational opportunities including scholarships and educational grants, as well as virtual tutoring and online workshops to help fill gaps and keep children from falling behind. Children who lack access to technology can receive data package assistance, books and educational materials to complete at home.

Sponsorship is helping students get the educational support they need.

Meet Coraima

One student’s story of the digital divide

Coraima is a 16-year-old high school student in the Dominican Republic. When her classes shifted to online learning, Coraima did her best to keep up. At first, she wore her mask to a local internet center to get her lessons. Then she was able to acquire a cellphone to study more safely alone, even though her phone’s capabilities are limited. Power outages, lack of reliable internet access, and uploading failures have been frustrating for Coraima, who is normally a diligent student. She often had trouble uploading her assignments but would try to stay positive and keep working, even if she wasn’t able to turn her work in on time.

“I was always very stressed when [assignments] piled up,” Coraima says. “Sometimes teachers think it is laziness, but you do know you want to comply. Not being able to do what you want is really uncomfortable.”

Thanks to the support of sponsorship, Children International was able to support Coraima with internet packages, so she could more easily access her online classes. “That has helped me a lot because sometimes you have nowhere to connect,” she says, “It’s a very big help.” This past year, Coraima also took an online “Tell Me a Story” creative-writing workshop put on by her local community center. “I was opening my mind a little more because it helped develop my creativity,” she says. “And that’s very cool.”

Education challenges in the Dominican Republic


Coraima is not alone in her struggle to continue her education online. In fact, almost a third of students across the world are unable to participate in remote classrooms, due to a lack of technology, internet access and school resources. Local staff around the world are addressing this digital divide by providing students with data packages, device maintenance and support navigating new online platforms. Most of our education programs have been able to continue online, including our popular technology classes!

Searching for a signal

One father’s smart solution

Bayron, 14, and Reina, 11, live with their parents and three younger siblings in Guatemala. To continue their classes online, Bayron's and Reina’s sponsorships provided mobile devices and data packages — but they couldn’t find a signal anywhere in their house. Then their father, Lisho, had an idea: Look up. He built a studying tree house for Bayron and Reina where they could access a signal, do their classwork and have fun.

Learn more about Children Internationals’ Education programs.

Meet Esteban

One student’s story of the learning gap

Esteban was only two semesters away from graduating high school when the pandemic struck. His dreams of going on to college to get his master’s in environmental chemistry seemed to drift further away as he and his siblings struggled to share cellphones, do extra small jobs to pay for internet service and encourage each other to keep going.

What frustrated this HOPE scholar the most was how the quality of his education was suffering.

“[I knew] that we were not going to learn as much online as we would in person. The school program was not structured that way,” Esteban says.

“And I was right. I worried more about turning in the assignment on time rather than the grade I would get, or even learning. That is what shocked me the most.”

Ultimately, Esteban was able to use funds from his HOPE scholarship to purchase a data plan and school supplies so he could keep studying at home. His family also received direct assistance from Children International when his parents were out of work. “They’ve constantly been helping us with groceries,” Esteban says. His brother was able to access a tablet and a scholarship to study English through his own sponsorship as well. “They’ve truly been looking out for the families,” Esteban says. He’s been attending additional Children International job-skills training and vocational workshops online as he continues his high school classes.

Education challenges in Mexico


Without support, many students like Esteban are at risk for falling behind in their studies. Students in low- and lower-middle income countries lost the equivalent of four months of learning since the pandemic began — compared to only six weeks in higher-income areas. As the pandemic continues, Children International’s tutoring programs will help meet this learning gap, while its financial assistance programs will help students purchase necessary remote learning supplies.

Space to study

One student's pandemic struggle

Shirley, 7, and her family were isolated in the early days of the pandemic in Ecuador. They relied on a neighbor with a phone to get Shirley’s assignments via WhatsApp from her school. Shirley’s mother, Martha, said even she didn’t understand the assignments sometimes and was worried Shirley was falling behind. “Sometimes I was afraid the children would not learn anything,” Martha remembers. “I cried.” Thanks to Shirley’s sponsorship, she was able to connect with a virtual tutor who has been helping her with her language, math and English skills. Through her Children International school scholarship, Shirley was also able to get a desk, so she would have somewhere to study. “She had no place to put her notebook to write,” Martha says. “Now there is enough space...she has everything in order.”

What are your thoughts about how children and schools have had to pivot to digital learning versus in person?

Leave a comment below.


Sep 7, 2021

Children International continues to be plucky, determined and resourceful during the pandemic! Applause!

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