COVID-19, Distance Learning, and the Digital Divide: A Comparative Study of Higher Education Institutions in the US and Pakistan


  • Sunaina Asher Ball State University



Digital divide, distance education, COVID-19, Higher Education


This multiple case study describes the experiences of students, faculty and administrators with distance learning during this pandemic in the context of a Midwestern University in United States and an elitist University in Lahore, Pakistan. The participants were invited to talk about their experiences through a Zoom interview. Data were analyzed thematically and the findings revealed that the issue of the digital divide was as much as problem in higher education as in K-12. Digital divide in Pakistan is far greater due to lack of investment in educational technology. The paper ends with acknowledging the potential limitations and making recommendations for leadership and teaching practice.

Author Biography

Sunaina Asher, Ball State University

The author is from Pakistan and at present is an International Graduate Student in the Department of Educational Studies at Ball State University in Muncie, IN.



Ahmed, M.J. (2020, August 10). COVID-19 and educational crisis. The News International.

Atchoarena, D. (2020, April 8). COVID-19: Learning cities on the front line. UNESCO.

Basilaia, G., & Kvavadze, D. (2020). Transition to online education in schools during a SARS-CoV-2 Corona virus (COVID-19) Pandemic in Georgia. Pedagogical Research, 5(4), em0060.

Bektursynova, A., & Sarsengaliyeva, B. (2020). Impact of terrible pandemic COVID-19 on Kazakhstani education and it’s outcome. Proceedings of International Young Scholars Workshop, 9.

Blundell, R., Dias, M.C., Joyce, R., Xu, X. (2020). COVID-19 and inequalities. FISCAL STUDIES, 41(2), 291–319.

Cao, W.,Fang, Z., Hou, G., Han. M., Xu, X., Dong, J., & Zheng, J. (2020). The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China. Psychiatry Research 287(112934).

Chang, G.C., & Yano, S. (2020, March 24). How are countries addressing the COVID-19 challenges in education? A snapshot of policy measures. GEM Report.

Chenoweth, K. (2020, June 8). This is so much of a harder task to perform. The Education Trust.

Corlatean, T. (2020). Risks, Discrimination and Opportunities for Education during the Times of COVID-19 Pandemic. Research Association for Interdisciplinary Studies.

COVID-19 and education in emergencies. (n.d.). Education Cannot Wait.

Dawadi, S., Giri, R., & Simkhada, P. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the Education Sector in Nepal -Challenges and Coping Strategies. Sage Submissions. Preprint.

Diop, M.O., & Jain, T. (2020, March 13). COVID-19 crisis sheds light on the need for a new education model. UNESCO.

Ferdig, R.E., Baumgartner, E., Hartshorne, R., Kaplan-Rakowski, R. & Mouza, C. (Eds). (2020). Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Hollweck, T. & Doucet, A. (2020), "Pracademics in the pandemic: pedagogies and professionalism", Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Karalis, T. (2020). Planning and evaluation during educational disruption: lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic for treatment of emergencies in education. European Journal of Education Studies, 0. doi:

Mailizar, Almanthari, A., Maulina, S. & Bruce, S. (2020). Secondary School Mathematics Teachers’ ViewsonE-learning Implementation Barriers during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Case of Indonesia. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 6(7).

Mineo, L. (2020, April 10). Time to fix American education with race-for-space- resolve. The Harvard Gazette.

Poletti M. (2020). Hey teachers! Do not leave them kids alone! Envisioning schools during and after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 20, 100140.

Rimers, F., & Scheicher. (2020). A framework to guide an education response to the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. OECD Better Policies for Better lives.

Sahlberg, P. (2020), "Will the pandemic change schools?", Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Sahu, P. (2020). Closure of Universities Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Impact on Education and Mental Health of Students and Academic Staff. Cureus 12(4): e7541.

Savin-Baden, M., & Major, C. H. (2013). Qualitative research: The essential guide to theory and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sarfaraz, H., & Abidin, Z.U. (2020, August 21). Preparing for the new normal in Pakistan amid COVID19- A case for accelerated learning. World Education Blog.

Soland, J., Kuhfeld, M., Tarasawa, B. Johnson, A., Ruzek, E., & Liu, J. ( 2020, May 27). Impact of COVID- 19 on student achievement and what it may mean for educators.


The Express Tribune. (June 28, 2020). Pakistan’s education crisis explained in 300 words.

Tretler, M. (2020. June 8). Digital education is on the rise in Pakistan as COVID-19 keeps students at home. Malala Fund.

UNESCO. (2020a). Distance learning strategies in response to COVID-19 school closures. UNESDOC Digital Library.

UNESCO. (2020b). Supporting teachers and education personnel during times of crisis. UNESDOC Digital Library.

UNESCO. (2020c). Crisis-sensitive educational planning. UNESDOC Digital Library.

UNESCO. (2020d). Open and distance learning to support youth and adult learning. UNESDOC Digital Library.

UNESCO. (2020e). COVID-19 crisis and curriculum: sustaining quality outcomes in the context of remote learning. UNESDOC Digital Library.

UNESCO. (2020f). Quality assurance and recognition of distance higher education and TVET. UNESDOC Digital Library.

UNESCO. (2020g). Higher education institutions’ engagement with the community. UNESDOC Digital Library.

Williamson, B., Eynon, R. & Potter, J. (2020). Pandemics politics, pedagogies and practices: digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(2), 107-114.

Zahra-Malik, M. (13 July 2020). The coronavirus effect on Pakistan’s digital divide- BBC Worklife.

Additional Files



How to Cite

Asher, S. (2021). COVID-19, Distance Learning, and the Digital Divide: A Comparative Study of Higher Education Institutions in the US and Pakistan. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 23(3), 112–133.