The transition to digital means for teaching in order not to lose the academic year brought certain inequalities of access into sharp relief. In order to successfully accompany studies off campus, students must have, at least, reliable fast internet and a device with which to follow the materials. The reality of Brazil’s public universities is that many students do not have access to one, or perhaps both of these prerequisites, risking ingraining and exacerbating educational inequalities and depriving students of basic rights to education.
The central administration of Unicamp identified that the main constraint was internet access, rather than the possession of a device. Given the difficulty and time it would take to negotiate with the telecoms companies, the most cost effective decision was to buy mobile phone SIM cards pre-loaded with 10GB of data, each costing R$20 and distribute them to the students.
The initiative was financed from an existing transport scholarship for students from low income households that, before the pandemic, allowed them to afford public transport to access campus for classes. This scholarship of R$200 was reassigned, R$20 deducted for the SIM card and the rest handed as a home study scholarship of R$180, allowing students to invest in technology, or reuse for basic necessities at their discretion in order for them to order their lives to carry on studying.
At the same time, the university called for donations and relied on their endowment fund to buy cheap laptops for a number of students to allow them to study.
Students from a wide variety of different backgrounds and conditions face extreme challenges in maintaining their studies over the pandemic – from challenging family situations, increased domestic burdens, rising unemployment and financial security, physical or cognitive disabilities, mental health issues among many others. None of these is primordial to the basic material conditions to study – reliable internet and the equipment to access it. This is not a definitive solution, but a necessary precondition.
The strength of this policy is that it has shown up a very important pre-existing inequality in our student bodies, and found a practical solution to it at no extra cost. Access to high speed internet is vital for studying remotely, but it is also highly necessary when physical classes are happening. The lack of conditions to study online at home places a student at a vast educational disadvantage compared to their peers – it is an inequality that should be approached and eradicated.
- Number of SIM cards distributed
- Number of laptops distributed
- Number of scholarships distributed
- Adhesion of recipients of materials to course (% completed minimum credits for semester, average number of credits obtained)
Post pandemic target
- 100% of student body with reliable off-campus internet access