By Andres Blume, Columnist
The COVID-19 pandemic has made something clear: people need digital media and digital literacy to exercise their rights fully in an increasingly digital world. This need is especially evident in the education sector. Schools have had to close their doors, and classrooms have been transformed into video conferences. This transition has been exceptionally difficult for Peru, where internet connectivity is concentrated in urban areas. Although around 84% of rural households have access to a mobile phone, internet connection (13.2%) and computer possession (7.2%) rates are drastically lower in rural areas. Moreover, even with access to mobile phones, these disparities present significant barriers to education.
The Peruvian government is able to guarantee the right to basic education, particularly as it applies to distance learning. To achieve this, the Ministry of Education (Minedu) and the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) can implement policies to alleviate issues of educational access.
Minedu’s plan, Cierre de la Brecha Digital (“Closing the Digital Divide”), offers a learning platform called Aprendo en Casa (“I Learn At Home”) that integrates digital and traditional media. Aprendo en Casa proposes using common forms of media, including TV and radio, as alternative ways to provide public education. This way, even when students could not attend schools, they could still access public educational content by tuning into the state channels. In addition, Minedu has given more than one million tablets to public schools, accompanied by a digital educational ecosystem that incorporates teacher training in the use of tablets for academic purposes. Since mobile phones have more penetration in Peru, the government implemented a plan called Recarga Minedu (“Reload Minedu”). This plan offers unlimited calls, SMS, and internet access for teachers to maintain communication with students, parents, and colleagues, as well as to follow training.
However, these policies are just ways to ease long-standing problems that suddenly became urgent in 2020 during the pandemic. During the last 30 years, there have been several attempts to give media technologies to public schools, but with limited sustainability. Equipment often ends up in school warehouses because many teachers do not know how to use it in class or are afraid to damage it. The predominant view from public and private projects has been that providing information and communication technologies is an end to itself, yet very little has been done to include media education in the teacher training curriculum or student study plans.
Proper infrastructure is fundamental; there needs to be an equal effort in developing media literacy for both teachers and students. Technology cannot be seen solely as a tool that improves teaching practices. In an immensely mediated world, it is deeply intertwined with culture. Students and teachers alike need to learn not only to use technology but to think critically about it. And for that purpose, closing the digital divide — both in infrastructure and pedagogy — must be a top priority for Peru’s education agenda.