At OUP, we continue to transform to become a digital-first business, and recognize that we have a responsibility to support our wider communities through their own digital journeys.


By Nigel Portwood, CEO

Whether we’re viewing content and media for work or entertainment purposes, communicating with friends, family and colleagues, or carrying out everyday tasks like online shopping, we know how reliant we have become on technology in our personal and professional lives.

This trend accelerated during the pandemic, not least in education when face-to-face learning suddenly ground to a halt. Digital learning became the global norm as teachers, parents, and learners alike grappled with new ways of accessing and delivering education — all while dealing with the uncertainty, confusion, and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first half of 2021,we released a report, Education: the journey towards a digital revolution, which reflected on what we had learned during the pandemic, what did and didn’t work, and how we could embrace digital technology to shape education in the future.

It also highlighted an issue that is becoming increasingly evident in the wake of COVID-19: the ‘digital divide’.

Those of us fortunate enough to have regular access to devices, a reliable internet connection, and a solid understanding of how to use digital tools effectively may not necessarily be aware of the divide, or recognize its consequences.

But for millions of people all over the world, limited digital skills, access, and connectivity can have a significant impact on teaching, learning, and ultimately opportunity and social mobility.

At OUP, we continue to transform to become a digital-first business, and recognize that we have a responsibility to support our wider communities through their own digital journeys.

That’s why we undertook new research to understand the digital divide in more depth. Through our survey of more than 1,500 school and English Language teachers across 92 countries, we explored several areas: the scale of the digital divide; the main barriers teachers and learners face; the role of parents; the impact on learners’ development and wellbeing; and existing, systemic barriers that exacerbate the problem.

Combined with the experiences from individuals in different markets and extensive secondary research, our findings identified some clear issues that need to be addressed to resolve the digital divide globally, and support learners’ prospects:

  • Limited digital skills are nearly as great a barrier to learning as access to technology. Lack of access to digital devices was cited as a problem by 68 per cent of teachers, while 56 per cent of respondents reported that teachers and learners alike do not have the skills to make digital learning a success.
  • The most disadvantaged learners have been disproportionately affected; 70 per cent of teachers said the most disadvantaged students lost learning due to limited or no access to digital devices, and almost half (44 per cent) felt their wellbeing had been particularly negatively affected.
  • Six in 10 teachers identified engaging students in online lessons as the main challenge to learning—greater than education funding or digital infrastructure.
  • Parents and carers should play a bigger role in supporting digital learning. 50 per cent of teachers said a lack of parental understanding of tools and platforms limited the effectiveness of support available to learners.
Clearly action must be taken—and quickly.

That is why, based on the insights gathered, OUP will be acting on these insights and supporting our customers and all those connected with education with the following:

A greater focus on independent learning

Not only will this provide screen-free time, allowing for the development of wider skills such as critical thinking, but it will remove some of the pressures for learners to be online, or to have ready access to digital devices.

Building digital competency skills

Among educators, students, and parents. More resources and guidance need to be available to help address this, in line with constantly evolving technology.

Targeting resources at both ends of the digital divide

As well as providing low-cost or free resources to support teachers, learners, and parents in developing digital competency, there is a fundamental need for governments around the world to invest in digital infrastructure and fair access to devices—especially if digital learning really is here to stay.

We know there is no quick, simple solution for tackling the digital divide. Nor does the responsibility for addressing it lie solely with one group or individual.

But if governments and those working in education collaborate—and act soon—hopefully we can prevent the divide from deepening further and ultimately make rapid progress towards closing it.

Nigel Portwood

Chief Executive Officer, Oxford University Press