Digital Poverty vs. AR Technology: There is place only for one in Education

Georgia Maneta

EFL Educator, eTwinning Ambassador


Immersive Technologies have gradually made their appearance in education and have proved to be more effective in helping student understand different notions. However, the pandemic back in 2020 made people realize that there is still great room for improvement in the area of digitalization of education due to the so-called digital divide that seems to exist around the world. This paper focuses on the use and effectiveness of Augmented Reality (AR) in Education while discussing the possible ways of eliminating the existing digital poverty in the hope that all students and educators around the world will enjoy the benefits of AR by 2030 (according to the 17 SDGs)

Keywords: Augmented Reality (AR), education, digital poverty


The 21st century has been characterized by technological breakthroughs and advances in all fields of human life, whether these have to do with engineering, communication or education (to mention just a few of them). The Internet is deemed to be among the most important ones since it “has provided a new democratic space that empowers groups and individuals to express themselves and to understand the world” (Maboloc, 3). Thus, through it, people from different cultures have been brought closer to a mutual understanding, have virtually visited faraway places and, without any doubt, have been able to take their studies further through well designed MOOCs and a plethora of webinars. The positive effects of technology at school have, gradually, started being recognized by both educators and parents and nowadays even “augmented reality is increasingly reaching young users such as elementary-school and high-school children” (Radu, 2012,p. 313).

 Indeed, we are fast approaching 2030 and the attainment of the 17 SDGs is considered certain.  However, at the onset of the COVID19 pandemic, and as a response to massive school closures globally, the continuity of teaching and learning within formal educational systems became significantly dependent on the ability to engage in online learning activities or access to educational materials digitally” (Olanrewaju et al, 2021,  p. 2).

This is when everyone (ranging from the governments to the local authorities and interested parties) realized that the benefits of technology cannot yet be reaped worldwide, that the world is still divided because of the existing digital poverty, which  can be detected anywhere and not only in the developing countries. Given the fact, then, that digital poverty still prevails, no matter how ambitious the education policy makers are, technology cannot be fully integrated in the classroom.

Taking into account that “AR has also become a major study focus in latest years…. [because] it no longer needs costly hardware and advanced machinery such as head mounted screens (Godoy, 2020, 39), the focus of the present paper is on analyzing digital poverty and how this acts as a barrier towards a better and fuller adoption of AR in education (both K-12 and Higher). At the same time, ways of overcoming the various obstacles will be suggested in the hope that by 2030 the situation will have got smoother.

Why AR in education?

According to Pedaste et al., Augmented Reality “can be defined as a technology that enriches the real world with digital elements such as 3D animations, images or videos” (2020, p. 2). To put it simply, while in a Science class, students can have a closer look at a 3D model of the Covid-19 virus as this is presented through the ARLOOPA app. History lessons can become more fun and memorable when students can actually, while reading about the destruction of Smyrna in 1922, scan a photo with their mobile and watch in real-time a video that was recorded back then-the result of the History teacher’s work using the ARtutor app.  The list with AR apps is quite lengthy, counting as one of its latest additions the MIRAGE-XR app which “provides enhanced, location-based experience for learners with the promise to get access to expert knowledge faster, better, and more engaging than ever before” ( Godoy suggests that AR be, also, used in a variety of lessons such as Language and Foreign Language Teaching, ICT, Social Science Vocational Training and Mathematics.

By introducing elements of AR technology in their lesson, educators shift away from the traditional way of teaching, achieving at the same time increased content understanding, long-term memory retention, increased student motivation and improved collaboration (Radu, 2012). These results can only be achieved because “AR offers new forms of interactivity with content, improved visualisations of scientific phenomena, and a reduced cognitive load” (Avila-Garzon et al., 2021, pp. 1-2). Students do not have to memorize anything anymore. They can observe in real time the notion they are learning, understand its mechanics, collaborate in exploring it, work deeper with it and, eventually, retain it in their memory. Lastly, in cases where students are well equipped with a portable device and the necessary technical knowledge (who will provide it is a topic to be discussed), AR extends the classroom time outside school. Thus, while at home, students can enjoy a virtual trip, listen to a story or even learn (or improve) a new foreign language using the AR apps suggested by Thorsten Schmidt (2021).   In a few words, AR technology at school empowers the learners by encouraging them to take learning in their own hands. After all the above mentioned benefits, and given the fact that AR technology is quite affordable since all it needs nowadays is a portable electronic device (whether it be a tablet or smartphone), one cannot help wondering why it has not still been widely used in schools. An analysis of the concept of digital poverty and its extent in the world will, in all probability, provide the answer.

On digital poverty

Because of the pandemic back in March 2020, schools had to remain closed and the education community switched to ‘emergency remote teaching’, a term “coined by Hodges and collaborators” (Mitescu-Manea et al., 2021, p.100). The implementation of the new way of teaching was far from being uncomplicated and smooth. While students of this era have been considered the Generation Z, have been called ‘Digital Natives’ and seemed to be spending quite a lot of hours in front of a screen (either a tablet, a smartphone or a laptop), this did not seem to be the case for students worldwide, nor for their educators who were asked to deliver their lessons in a completely different way and in no time at all. Whose fault was it that online teaching was not as successful as the physical one? What were the reasons behind the fact that thousands of students worldwide were left without any access to education materials?

The term ‘digital poverty’ has long existed to account for all these inefficiencies. Barantes defines ‘digital poverty’ “as a lack of ICT with regards to access and use of the information and communications allowed by the technology” (2007, p. 49). In other words, digital poverty touches upon ICT infrastructure, ICT knowledge, age, level of education, income and geographical places. Barantes goes on with specifying the types of causes for digital poverty, mainly “lack of supply-that is connectivity access…-lack of demand, a problem clearly related to inadequate income; and lack of need or capacity, which is the problem of non-poor people with no access or use due to age or inadequate literacy” (p. 51). Lack of Internet access, then, and/or of a digital device is among the primary characteristics of a digitally poor person. However, one should keep in mind that Internet connection should be both reliable and fast so that one can have non-stop access to education materials-and this does not seem to be the case in rural and isolated areas, let alone in developing countries. Secondly, no matter how basic and common Internet access may be considered nowadays, there are still people around the globe who cannot afford it or choose to pay for something else that will help them through a difficult situation.  The third type of cause of digital poverty seems the most multi-faceted one, as lack of need or capacity has to do with age, education and knowledge. Thus, an old person, despite the fact that they may afford it, may choose not to learn how to surf the Internet since they can manage their everyday life without accessing it (e-banking transactions, for example, are carried out by younger people). In the case of students, though, there is, also, the parental factor that plays an important role. Mitescu-Manea et al. have pointed out that “parental education appears to be positively correlated to children’s access to computer possession at home, differences between high and low skilled parents being especially significant” (2021, 2016, p. 101). Hence, children with higher socioeconomic status have a good knowledge of the Web and feel more comfortable when surfing the Internet, whereas “students with the lowest socioeconomic status had poorer Internet skills [and]… participated in few online activities” (Collin et al.,2021, p. 3).

Since the focus of this paper is digital poverty and the implementation of AR technology in Education, it should be made clear that a great portion of schools worldwide lack steady Internet connection and proper portable, digital devices which could readily help with the adoption of AR in the classroom. Moreover, as Karacan and Akoğlu mention “digitally immigrant teachers will have a hard time using this technology…[because]it poses unexpected errors and problems which might require prior experience with various technology tools and platforms” (2021, p.73). Last, but certainly not least, not all teachers have the necessary pedagogical knowledge to integrate web tools in their teaching which entails that “with students having lots of fun, the class might go out of control” (Karacan and Akoğlu, 2021, p. 73).

After all the above having been presented and analyzed, a question arises as to whether digital poverty will go on existing and hampering the implementation of AR in the classroom. If measures are taken and there are joint efforts towards its elimination, there is always hope that we will move towards a new way of educating students around the world.

Ways of reducing/eliminating digital poverty

The above analysis on digital poverty can be well summarized by Olanrewaju et al who claim that “despite the prominent role of ICTs in information generation, processing and use in the 21st century, it can be argued that widespread usage and adoption is still growing” (2021, p. 1) and, as discussed above, this is not the case only for developing countries (although these are in a worse position). One of the lessons that the world learnt from this pandemic is that we are still not ready for “a smooth and efficient transition to online education, particularly when uneven distributions of access to internet across rural and urban areas and of software available in schools, coupled with lower levels of digital skills” (Mitescu-Manea et al, 2021, p. 101) significantly hinder the whole process. For the digital poverty to be reduced (and hopefully eliminated) joint efforts should be made on a local, national and global level. Furthermore, “partnering across public, private, and social sectors is needed to assess student-level needs” (Ali, T. et al, 2021, p. 6) as well as educators’ needs and schools’ infrastructures so that policies for reformation can be effectively planned and implemented.

It is true that affordable and reliable Internet access for everyone anywhere in the world is a first important step but Internet in itself cannot act as a panacea for all the existing glitches that the education community had to fix while teaching online. As this seems to be an up-bottom process, after the Internet provision there should be an ample supply of laptops or tablets to educators and students who cannot afford one. Such devices are “crucial to the whole learning process. Modern tools are critical to self-discovery and greater freedom” (Maboloc, 2020, p.3) and will ensure that no one will be excluded from the learning process. In addition to this, tablets and smartphones are really user-friendly and can work well with AR applications. Imagine then the difference that a device like this can bring to a student’s life when it can be brought and used at home as well.

Moving on with the reformation process, policy makers should bear in mind that Internet connection and portable digital devices “alone will not help in the ultimate goal of granting universal access to better and higher quality education. Quality learning requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond connectivity, and that includes safe and friendly environments, qualified and motivated teachers, and content that is relevant” (Broadband Commission,2020, p. 4) for students to discover and fully employ their potential so as to be better equipped for the future. Having said this, it is of utmost importance that educators be educated on web tools and their benefits in the teaching process so that they enhance their digital competence and feel more comfortable with technology. However, having a technological background is not enough. “Teachers need…to be equipped …also with the assessment and pedagogical skills required to implement the accelerated curricula and differentiated learning strategies” (Broadband Commission, 2020, p. 5) otherwise they will not manage to employ the full potential of technology (AR included) in eduction and as a result students will retort to it just for fun. To account for the last point (that is students’ not realizing the potential of technology) schools could “introduce media education courses to ensure some consistency in students’ uses of technologies for educational purposes” (Collin et al.,2016,  p. 13). One last point should be made about students’ parents and guardians in the acceptance of technology in education. It has already been mentioned that a student’s level of interaction with technology has to do with the level of education of the parents and their socioeconomic level. Thus, “the contribution of parents in technology acceptance in education can be delivered by fostering information literacy, providing technology resources, creating learning opportunities and communicating their own values and aspirations about their children’s ICT use” (Dalim, CSC, 2017, p.585).

All things said, one should also keep in mind that by finding solutions to the above problems does not entail that digital poverty will be eliminated once and for all.  It will take continuous funding for the student and teacher ‘digital divide’ (a term used to differentiate between the Haves and Have-nots access to ICT and its benefits) to close. According to Ali T et al.

“closing the student digital divide will require between $6 billion and $11 billion in the first year and between $4 billion and $8 billion annually thereafter, to address affordability and adoption gaps. In addition, closing the digital divide for teachers will cost approximately $1 billion in its first year. These costs cover installation, ongoing service fees, devices, repairs, and support for internet connectivity and e-learning devices. Moreover, additional funding is needed to ensure universal deployment of broadband infrastructure capable of 100/100 Mbps” (2020, p. 6).

This means that governments, NGOs and anyone interested in education policy, should always work on a budget that will help maintain the digital poverty at a low level (if not eliminate it at the end).


Research has pointed out that “with the affordability of powerful mobile devices, mobile AR is considered one of the most impactful technologies in the next decade” (Karacan & Akoğlu, 2021, p. 69) for education as it allows students to interact with 3D models, explore in a game-like way (it should be kept in mind that Gamification in learning produces great results as to what is being learnt and for how long) and acquire tech skills which will be deemed necessary for their future life.  Despite the various efforts made by educators around the globe to introduce AR technology in their teaching, the levels of its adoption remain quite low. The Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 revealed “great disparities in the level of digital competence of teachers, students and supporting family members” (Mitescu et al.,2021, p. 111) as well as a great lack in technical infrastructure at schools and in electronic devices needed for the smooth transition from physical to online teaching. This being the case, then, it seems quite understandable why educators are still reluctant to apply AR in their classrooms and why students still feel intimidated to use it or misuse it as a simple game. Lack of reliable and fast Internet, lack of digital devices, inefficiency at digital and pedagogical competences, socioeconomic factors, enough funding are just a few of the obstacles that are present when educators are trying to “digitize” their classroom.

The solutions that were proposed above are fundamental in lowering the existing digital poverty and raising the education community’s digital competences. In the Broadband Commission report of 2020 it is stressed that

“If we are to succeed in “Leaving no one behind”, as established in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, then we need to ensure that we are working to provide everyone, especially children and young people, with safe and secure access to the Internet, not to mention the digital skills they need to learn and improve their lives” (p. v).

Education is the only tool that the society has to empower children, to equip them with the necessary hard and soft skills needed for a brighter future. However, education cannot remain stable. It evolves and it adjusts to the students of a certain era. As Aso et al stress

“it is necessary to update education, adapt to new needs and develop digital competence, the SDGs and the European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators, for which AR is a key tool in the knowledge, understanding, experimentation and enjoyment” (2021, p. 21).

The pandemic seems to have been a blessing in disguise as it helped the authorities take a closer look at the problems that the education community faces in an effort to get more digital. If measures are taken immediately, it is certain that we will witness the establishment of AR in schools worldwide with remarkable and long-lasting educational results.


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