Even outside of times of crisis, there are many parts of the world were young people are unable to receive the quality of education they deserve. The pandemic has only worked to further highlight this, as millions of children all over the world struggled to access education during global lockdowns. In many cases, internet access was the only means through which children were able to learn. The long-term impacts of this are still yet unknown, but what is clear is that technology has played a crucial role in access to education.
We have witnessed this for ourselves, through the reimagining of a number of our projects focused on supporting the education of young people. This was particularly the case for our legal skills training program for students at the University of the South Pacific (USP) Law Faculty in Fiji and Vanuatu. In recent years, these sessions have been conducted in person, with three DLA Piper lawyers from Australia and New Zealand attending each campus twice a year to deliver the course.
For students in the Pacific Islands – a part of the world that faces severe structural impediments to sustainable development, including weak human and institutional capacities, low and unequally distributed income and scarcity of financial resources – this training is both empowering and beneficial. Despite the impact of the pandemic, we felt it was crucial to deliver this training, so the course was adapted to allow for distance learning through the application of technology.
In August 2020, with input from the USP staff, DLA Piper lawyers delivered a week-long training course via Zoom to nearly 30 students. The preparations for virtual training naturally raised questions regarding access and poverty in developing countries. In particular, the role of pro bono partners in financially contributing to an organisation's IT capacity, especially when relying on technology for the delivery of programs. As such, we are working to enhance the use of and access to technology in a number of our legal education training programmes and recently made a contribution towards IT equipment at USP to enhance the students' experience of online learning.