• Home learning is in focus amid coronavirus lockdowns.
  • In the US, fewer than 3 in 4 15-year-olds have access to a desk and a place to work.
  • Just half of Mexican 15-year-olds say they have access to a computer and the internet.
  • School closures can exacerbate inequality, but it’s not inevitable, the World Bank says.

Even in the world’s richest countries, it can’t be taken for granted that children have access to all they need to learn from home.

A computer, somewhere quiet to work and a desk to lean on - as well as the support of parents - isn’t a given, according to data from the OECD, whose member countries and partners represent about 80% of world trade and investment.

The statistics show disparities in the availability of technology and other resources, with fewer than 3 in every 4 US 15-year-olds having access to a desk and an appropriate place to work. With schools in more than 100 countries closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, nearly 1 billion children are being home-educated.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus-driven school closures can lead to learning loss and exacerbate inequality, but long-term consequences are not inevitable, the World Bank says.

Fostering and encouraging equality of opportunity and social mobility are key questions for policy-makers. The World Economic Forum’s Global Social Mobility Index benchmarks levels of social mobility across 82 economies, and can help identify areas for improvement.

Here are three areas in which the OECD data shows disparities.

1. 13% of students don’t have a quiet place to study

Acess to a desk and a quiet place to study.
Access to a quiet study place varies around the world.
Image: OECD

While most children in OECD countries do have access to a desk and a place to study, 13% don’t. The figure is as high as 27% in the US. The nation with the best rating is Switzerland, where 93% of children can access what they need.

2. Computer and internet access

Adolescents with a computer for schoool work and internet at home.
Who's online?
Image: OECD

Denmark and Norway top this list, with 98% and 96% of adolescents having a computer for school work and a home internet connection. The OECD average is 89%, but this category has wide disparities, falling to 50% in Mexico and 60% in Japan. The number is as low as 23.5% in Indonesia (not a member of the OECD).

3. Supportive parents aren’t guaranteed

Adolescents (15-year olds) with parents interested in and supportive of their education.
Supportive parents.
Image: OECD

Japan is the country where 15-year-olds say they feel least supported, according to the OECD data, with 82% of respondents saying they have parents who are interested in and supportive of their education. Across the OECD, the average is 90.5%, rising to 95% in Portugal.