Based on the insights gathered through OUP’s research, we suggest the following recommendations for educators and governments.


A greater focus on independent learning

It is impossible to recreate a physical learning environment in the digital realm. A different philosophy is needed to implement digital learning successfully; one that focuses on empowering students to learn independently offline, as well as in an online group. Class teaching remains a priority but a flexible, hybrid approach that includes independent learning could deliver stronger attainment outcomes.

In a previous OUP position paper, Learner Agency: Maximizing Learner Potential, we highlighted the need for educators to help learners develop a sense of ‘agency’ to prepare them for life in a changing world. The importance of promoting agency has been emphasised by the COVID-19 pandemic: students who take an active role in their learning will be better prepared for whatever they encounter in the present or the future. Young learners may need a more structured approach with more explicit guidance – but given appropriate support, every student has the potential to become an independent learner.

Support for disadvantaged students

Independent learning supports disadvantaged students who struggle with access to reliable internet and devices. By limiting the amount of time students need to be online ‘in a class’, teachers can, to a degree, help to level the playing field. Students may be able to arrange ‘timeshares’ with siblings and adults in their household to ensure they have their turn on a shared device at the right time, with the rest of the day’s learning taking place offline. While this by no means removes the pressure to find a longer-term solution, it is a practical stop-gap until all students have equal access to a device and reliable, affordable internet connections.

A rethink of ‘engagement’

It’s clear that educators feel they are unable to engage learners as effectively in a digital setting. Independent learning has benefits for all students, preventing ‘Zoom fatigue’ and rethinking what engagement looks like in a digital setting – it is measurable by the number of ‘cameras on’; or the quality of the work being delivered? Rather than setting fixed objectives for the whole class, a teacher might invite students to set their own objectives based on their strengths and weaknesses, working in partnership with learners to give them a sense of ownership over their goals, and in doing so, increase their engagement.

Supports the development of students’ wider skills

Independent learning helps students develop behaviours such as asking questions to fill the gaps in their knowledge, adopting different learning strategies, and being able to take risks and learn from their mistakes. Learners who feel in control of their own development are more likely to be engaged and invested in their learning, which can improve their confidence, motivation, sense of empowerment, and ultimately their learning outcomes.


Build digital competency skills among educators, students and parents

Digital competency is nearly as great a challenge as digital access and—with the right support—it is something that educators themselves can address. OUP’s survey revealed a need for skills, training and resources that, if met, could help reduce the digital divide and give educators, learners, and their parents the confidence to fully engage with digital learning.

Engage with parents to unlock students’ potential

Parents play a fundamental role in supporting students, facilitating greater engagement with home learning initiatives, and the development of crucial attitudes towards digital learning. They have become much closer to their children’s learning as a result of the lockdowns, and will likely continue to play a key role in supporting distanced learning. For what may be the first time, parents and teachers have forged a true partnership, brought together by the challenges of remote learning during the pandemic. Digital learning offers an opportunity to build on this partnership, rather than letting it fall to the wayside as schools reopen.

We believe that targeted resources should be developed to ensure that parents—especially from more disadvantaged groups—have all the support they need to make the most of home learning initiatives. Schools should view children’s progress holistically, in relation to the support their parent(s) are able to provide in a home setting and consider whether practical guidance directed at parents will ultimately result in better educational outcomes for the student. A careful balance must be struck to ensure that parents are not over-burdened at a time when many are feeling the economic stresses of the pandemic. Likewise, many parents have undergone the stress of transitioning to a home working model during lockdowns. However, parents want to support their children, and the right resources will give them the confidence to do so without the anxiety that they are ‘getting it wrong’.

Move from ‘upskilling’ to ‘always-skilling’ educators

In light of the potentially unremitting requirement to adopt digital learning practices at a moment’s notice, education leaders must actively identify and quickly support teachers that require additional technology skills, so that effective remote learning experiences can be delivered seamlessly. As technology is constantly evolving, there needs to be an attitudinal shift from sporadic ‘upskilling’ training, which runs the constant risk that knowledge will become outdated; to ‘always-skilling’, in which teachers have regular training touchpoints, in a ‘little and often’ model. This approach future proofs the system as, even at very short notice, teachers will always be equipped with the skills needed to leverage digital tools and platforms effectively.

Support students who are not confident with technology

There is often as assumption that younger generations are fully confident with technology, but this is not always the case. Students may use technology frequently but not in the context of education, or they may have limited access to technology in the first place. This perception of digital know-how may result in them being embarrassed to ask for help, especially if they are aware that there is an expectation that they should not need support. Educators can use their own skills to support learners, avoid assumptions about their current skill level, and work sensitively with what students have at home, such as older devices with limited capabilities.


Targeted resources to bridge both ends of the divide

Digital accessibility remains the biggest gap to bridge.

Some responses from our survey suggest that existing government schemes to improve access are working, but globally, the picture will vary and there is always the risk that some students will be left behind. Competency must not be overlooked, however, in the race to provide access. In some cases, it is not always ‘big ticket’ expenditure that will deliver the greatest impact. As we previously stated in the OUP Education: the journey towards a digital revolution report, wellbeing must now be considered as part of education policy – including support for teachers and parents. More resources are needed to support the wellbeing of educators, learners and their parents as they collectively navigate their educational course.

Invest in free resources for educators, students and parents

As teachers told us in our survey for this report, and as we have previously said, teachers must be brought along the digital journey and supported via professional development. Free downloadable guides, toolkits, and resources represent a low-investment but high-impact support system. And it is not just teachers: parents also need resources such as homework guides to further invest in the nascent partnership between schools and parents that has grown out of pandemic lockdowns. Education providers must do their part here and recognize where there are gaps they can fill. For example, some online platforms are available to schools but not accessible for parents to use at home with their child, something that could be easily rectified.

Government investment in infrastructure and device provision

We urge governments around the world to prioritize investments that support affordable access to reliable internet connections and devices. Vulnerable and disadvantaged students need particular support to avoid long-term or lifetime disadvantages from lost learning. As we have previously recommended, governments should actively collaborate and learn from teachers and students and use their recent experiences to inform future policy and curriculum development. Governments need to work with institutions to address the digital learning divide, not just now, but for the future too. We suggest that policy makers and education leaders undertake robust assessments, as soon as possible, to ensure all schools have the required infrastructure in place to allow them to be more agile in their response to any future upheaval. This would also help to ensure they are more able to readily identify and support those who need it most, during times of system crises, who otherwise might slip through the net.

Recognize that unhappy people cannot learn or teach

There is increasing evidence that mental health influences learning outcomes. Wellbeing and engagement are also inextricably linked. Anxious, unconfident or depressed students cannot learn effectively, and the same applies for teachers and teaching. The pandemic has had a significant impact on wellbeing around the world and both learners and educators have faced emotional, as well as practical, challenges. Instead of focusing solely on academic attainment, education—whether it’s delivered at home or in a classroom—should evolve to develop core personal skills and wellbeing. In the rush to ‘catch up’ with lost learning, there must still be time in curricula for a focus on wellbeing and mental health. Education leaders likewise need to ensure that adequate support is in place to avoid burnout amongst teachers and consequent staff retention challenges. Excellent, experienced teachers are leaving the profession at a time when their skills and passion have never been more needed.

In summary

Bridging the digital divide

Since further lockdowns may be needed to respond to potential new waves of infection in the future, it is consequently imperative that governments, education and policy experts, charities and private business concerns - especially within the technology and connectivity sectors – come together on a global scale to identify best practice approaches and new technologies that can effectively bridge the digital divide and maximize the effectiveness of online learning for all students in all nations.

A forward-looking approach will pay dividends: ensuring that digital education is fit for purpose not just in times of global crisis, but as a fundamental and positive part of the pedagogical future.

'If the digital divide is left unaddressed, the gap between the under-connected and the hyper-digitalized will widen, aggravating existing inequalities. We need a coordinated multi-lateral response to deal with the challenge of digitalization.

Can we take what we’ve learned and create strategies that will help to heal the digital divide before it worsens further?
This is the big question!'

Sonu Nayarr

PGT English, Delhi Public School Mathura Refinery Nagar Mathura Uttar Pradesh, India