In the past years of digital age, the internet has brought a huge significance in providing access to many information globally which have also improved our knowledge and competence. However, the recent debates have argued on whether or not the internet is truly open, neutral and alike to all its users and providers. As some countries censor and block content on grounds of politics which makes the internet more complex. This issue has coined a term called “Splinternet” which generally refers to as breaking down the global internet into individual, often due to regional, networks and platforms. According to Isberto (2022), the term came from Clyde Wayne Crews, a researcher at the Cato Institute when he devised it in 2001. This is becoming prevalent because geographic borders and governments, with their particular laws and regulations, may limit some websites and content can be blocked which is often leading to misinformation which challenges the current knowledge and global academe. Splinternet has been seen as a threat due to high risks of misinformation wherein censorship on the internet may result in misleading information. People then are losing the capacity to get up to date, precise information leading them to gain knowledge on something which may not be correct or updated. Thus, it is vital to tackle about this issue and have a better understanding on its impact in the current learning modalities of the regions that are affected by this specifically in the context of their education. In this hypertextual multimedia essay, we will delve into how the Splinternet is impacting global online education and the challenges it poses for accessibility and cross-border learning. Before delving deeper, here is a video explanation for you to better understand what is Splinternet.
1. The Splinternet Effect on Online Learning
The Internet has made it possible for people to collaborate and innovate, which has powered the expansion of national economies, widened access to education and employment, allowed individuals to overcome cross-border obstacles, and kept us all connected especially in times of crisis like what happened during the pandemic. But what happens to the learning access if there is a Splinternet going on in a region?
In the study of Guo and Wan (2022), they used data from a survey of teenage students to investigate equity issues in the use of Internet education in China during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research revealed a digital divide in online learning, which is mainly characterized by differences in access to technology, adaptability to online learning, and offline learning outcomes, and emphasized the need for a comprehensive effort by a number of stakeholders and interventions to address educational equity for disadvantaged students. Based on that case, we see a microcosm of the broader splinternet phenomenon that may occur in the digital divide on online learning. The fact that there are disparities in online learning is evidence of the need for a comprehensive effort to bridge the digital divide and bring about educational equality, which all contribute to government control, technological barriers and restrictions on access to global education resources. Dao et al., (2022) also discussed that many students in Vietnam predominantly from disadvantaged backgrounds, have been facing difficulties to access the internet and remote learning.
Russia is also known for its strict internet censorship measures by banning thousands of websites and online portals which are viewed as having content incompatible with state policies or regulations (Satariano & Hopkins, 2022). Under these measures, online learners may be adversely affected by the restriction of access to learning sources, research materials and online courses that are accessible on third party websites or platforms.
2. Challenges in Accessible Online Education
2.1 Digital Inequality in Southeast Asian Regions
The digital inequality across regions have been affecting the learners to access on quality information and knowledge. The concept of digital divide is particularly relevant with the “splinternet” effect. This is illustrated by the fact that, in Southeast Asia, even people who have internet access are at risk of encountering problems and limits to their online experience.
In the article of Jalli (2020), it was noted that there is a sizable digital divide in Southeast Asia, with only three nations—Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia—having internet adoption rates of more than 80%. However, densely populated countries like Indonesia only have a 56% internet penetration rate, and Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam have even lower figures. This highlights the region’s ongoing problem with inconsistent and limited internet access. This digital divide highlights the larger issue of unequal digital access, which is strongly related to the idea of the “Splinternet,” where some regions have trouble accessing high-quality online education due to infrastructure limitations.
2.2 – Language and Cultural Barriers
Global online education can face difficulties because of linguistic and cultural diversity. According to the study of Liu et al., (2010), international students in an online MBA program felt that cultural differences hindered their ability to learn which suggests for online instructors should create their courses in a way that removes potential cultural obstacles, such as language, communication tools, plagiarism, time zone differences, and the lack of multicultural content, in order to solve these problems. In order to encourage the active participation of international students, it is important to take diversity into account when designing courses.
3. Navigating the Splinternet for Inclusive Education
3.1 Collaborations Across Borders
Higher education has been impacted by the development of digital communication and the internet, which has allowed universities and educational institutions to broaden their worldwide reach through collaborations with several other academic institutions abroad. Due to their rapid economic expansion, developing countries in Asia have seen an increase in demand for higher education, making them among the most appealing locations to offer online degree programs. Similarly, it has been argued by Samoff & Carrol (2004) that for many years, colleges all over the world have benefited from cross-border partnerships due to its flexible strategy.
The study of Wilson (2017) also underlines the importance of international cooperation in education as she examines the partnerships between Afghan and American universities facilitated by USWDP which serve not only as a means of improving the employability of Afghan graduates but also to strengthen Afghanistan’s higher education sector. Based on that case, it is evident how collaboration across borders can play a significant role in delivering a more diverse and inclusive educational experience especially in regions with limited internet access and educational resources.
3.2 VPNs Usage for Students
When accessing potential unprotected networks which is often encountered by students, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) security offers an important layer of protection. They are designed for the purposes of assisting students in accessing information, circumventing restrictions and protecting their privacy with respect to different learning needs (Saltzman, 2021). According to the laws, using a VPN is only acceptable if it doesn’t result in illegal activities. However, it is still crucial that students are aware of the specific VPN policies that the institution has in place. Students should use caution and transparency in their online activity because certain institutions may limit or monitor the usage of VPNs.
This essay has presented that the emergence of splinternet has challenged the online education in multifaceted ways especially in accessing a quality educational resources. In order to maintain the open internet principle, it is not just technical progress but also a commitment to keeping the internet as an international common space where information may be distributed free of charge and education can flourish are needed for a more diverse digital environment that is accessible to all.
Dao, N. D., Phan, T. H., & Chau, H. M. T. (2022). Tackling Unequal Access to Digital Education in Viet Nam during the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://doi.org/10.56506/omlv4181
Guo, C., & Wan, B. (2022). The digital divide in online learning in China during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology in Society, 71, 102122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2022.102122
Isberto, M. (2022, November 15). What Is the “Splinternet”? Colocation America. https://www.colocationamerica.com/blog/what-is-the-splinternet
Jalli, N. (2020). Lack of internet access in Southeast Asia poses challenges for students to study online amid COVID-19 pandemic. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/lack-of-internet-access-in-southeast-asia-poses-challenges-for-students-to-study-online-amid-covid-19-pandemic-133787
Liu, X., Liu, S., Lee, S.-h., & Magjuka, R. J. (2010). Cultural Differences in Online Learning: International Student Perceptions. Educational Technology & Society, 13 (3), 177–188
Wilson, E. (2017). Effectiveness of Cross-border Partnership to Increase the Quality and Relevance of Higher Education in Afghanistan. https://www.edu-links.org/sites/default/files/media/file/USWDP-partnerships-brief-June-12.pdf
Samoff, J., & Carrol, B. (2004). The Promise of partnership and continuities of dependence: External support to higher education in Africa. African Studies Review, 47, 67-199
Saltzman, M. (2021). Why college students need to use a VPN – and how to pick the right one. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/saltzman/2021/08/28/vpns-what-they-and-why-do-college-students-need-use-them/5606265001/
Satariano, A., & Hopkins, V. (2022). Russia, Blocked From the Global Internet, Plunges Into Digital Isolation. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/technology/russia-ukraine-internet-isolation.html