Global cooperation to connect every school and learner to the internet
Now think about schools and the role they play in anchoring your community and the role they have played in your life. Across the globe, they are places where children and adults come together to learn. Schools are also places where the entire community gathers for celebrations, in times of crisis, to vote or to access health and emergency services.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.2 billion children globally were affected by school closures. Nearly 77 million children and young people have been shut out of their classrooms for the past 18 months. Around a quarter of countries continue to have schools fully or partially closed.
Yet we found opportunity during this time of hardship. We have seen what can be achieved when students, parents and teachers use digital connectivity to teach and learn wherever and whenever possible. Unfortunately, many of the students who could not access the digital tools needed to sustain their learning are now at risk of being left further behind – even without COVID compounding the divide.
Prior to the pandemic, a lack of access to the internet did not necessarily block children from an education. But COVID-19 has since upended education systems across the globe, and the link between school and personal connectivity to quality education is clearer than ever. This fact is highlighted in an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report sponsored by Ericsson in support of UNICEF – Connecting Learners: Narrowing the Educational Divide.
Connecting schools is good for the economy
The EIU report found that a 10 percent increase in schools’ connectivity in a country can increase the number of years of effective schooling and results in a GDP per capita increase of 1.1 percent. The EIU economic model also showed that the least connected countries in the world – like Niger – could realize up to a 20 percent increase in GDP if school connectivity level increased to the levels of a developed country like Finland.
Possible GDP gains by 2025 if countries raised connectivity to Finland levels
+9.1% El Salvador
+14.2% Sierra Leone
The authors also concluded that, to take full advantage of connectivity, teachers and students must have proper support and tools, including devices, learning resources and help with integrating technology into educational settings. This is true in low-, middle- and high-income countries and in both urban and rural areas. The quality and affordability of connectivity are also critical issues that must be addressed.
The benefits of school connectivity do not stop at the individual student. Spillover effects from connected schools benefit whole communities. They serve as community focal points for lifelong learning and development, as well as enhancing the quality of digital literacy among the populations in developing world economies... This directly benefits economic growth by stimulating entrepreneurship and commerce.
Connecting every school to the internet by 2030
So how do we accomplish this? It’s a huge task, as no one knows for sure how many schools there are in the world or exactly where they’re located.
In 2019, UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) launched Giga, an initiative to connect every school in the world to the internet. Working initially with 19 countries (and growing), Giga maps school connectivity in real-time, creates models for innovative financing, and supports government contracting for school connectivity. It is now preparing to launch a USD 5 billion Connectivity Bond to finance last-mile infrastructure and catalyze investment.
Based on a belief that connectivity can improve lives and help pioneer a sustainable future, Ericsson has partnered with UNICEF to help tackle the challenge of mapping schools and assessing their connectivity in 35 countries by the end of 2023. Together with national governments and other partners, Giga has now mapped 1 million schools and their connectivity levels. These insights will make it possible to aggregate demand and target critical investments in new infrastructure.
For its part, Ericsson is building on its communication infrastructure capabilities coupled with data science and artificial intelligence expertise to collect, validate, analyze, monitor, and visualize real-time connectivity data.
We need more than connectivity
Collaboration is key. Both government and the private sector need to create holistic strategies to overcome barriers to school connectivity.
Digital inclusion is also more than just access. Connectivity that is not only accessible, but also affordable, could be a game-changer for learning, particularly in remote areas and areas with lower teacher availability.
This digital infrastructure—combined with support to teachers and students— can also enable new types of learning opportunities that complement and enrich in-person learning.
Hybrid, blended and online options can help democratize access and make high-quality education much more accessible for all. They will also give students greater flexibility over when, where and how to engage with learning, as well as potentially providing valuable information to teachers and parents to better target face-to-face support.
Imagine putting the accumulated knowledge of the world at the fingertips of all children and adults in their own language. It’s possible.
We saw what kind of major digital leap was possible in 2020. We need to be ready for changes of that magnitude. We cannot continue to leave billions of our fellow people behind.
Read the WEF blog post here.
Read more about Ericsson’s work with UNICEF.
Read President and CEO Börje Ekholm’s previous blog post: Letter to the G20: why digital holds the key to meeting global challenges.
Aug 27, 2020 |Blog post
Nov 09, 2021 |Blog post
Closing the digital divide: how machine learning and data science can help Giga map the next million schools
AI and machine learning, Data and analytics, Sustainability
Aug 17, 2022 |Blog post
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