When schools closed in Jordan in mid-March as part of the country’s coronavirus lockdown, Syrian refugees followed a strict schedule to access the online learning platform set up by the Jordanian government.
It was a struggle, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, details in a recent report, “Coming Together for Refugee Education.”
Take, for example, the siblings Nour, 15, Fadia, 14, Nadia, 12, Muhammad, 10, and Abed, 5. All five children share the same bedroom, making it difficult to find the silence and solitude needed to focus. More problematic is that the family only has one mobile phone. Meanwhile, the data is not always reliable and the videos sent by teachers ate it up quickly. The family, which lives off informal labor and $200 in monthly U.N. aid, has had to cut back to afford it.
“Yesterday, I had an online test,” Nour told UNHCR. “I couldn’t get the data to work.”
Even so, some might say Nour and her sisters are luckier than many other female students in the Arab world. One of the big hurdles to female education and employment even before the pandemic has been unequal access to mobile technology. The 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report by Unesco found that worldwide, access to mobile Internet is 26 percent lower for women and girls overall than for their male peers, and even lower for refugees. That means 327 million fewer women than men have smartphones, says Matthias Eck, a researcher with the Global Education Monitoring Report.
“Even when women do have access to the Internet, they may be less able to use it—and that can be for various reasons related to gender,” Eck said. “So, for example, when you have multiple members of a household that need access to computing resources which can be limited at home—there might be only one computer and one smartphone—then women and girls tend to receive less access to those to those devices.”
“And that’s even more so the case now with Covid-19,” he added.