School connectivity equips learners for education, work, and life
Of the 3.7 billion people around the world who still lack access to the Internet, nearly 370 million are under 25 years of age.
Millions of children still leave school each year without any digital skills, limiting their access to employment opportunities and to a wealth of information online. The chasm separating digital “haves” and “have-nots” prevents those children from reaching their full potential.
But solutions are in sight thanks to new technologies, innovative business and finance solutions, and growing international cooperation to expand school connectivity.
The Giga initiative last week confirmed it had mapped the connectivity levels of one million schools across 41 countries to date, as part of its ongoing push to connect every school worldwide.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, more than 90 per cent of children in 190 countries were affected by school closures by mid-2020, as classes worldwide moved primarily online, the challenge of educating the world’s 1.6 billion students was thrown into stark relief.
Many lacked access to the digital tools they would need to succeed in the immediate situation, not to mention in future endeavours.
Financing meaningful connectivity
More than ever before, closing the digital divide calls for global investment, partnerships, and technological innovation.
But financing the necessary infrastructure for connectivity remains a vital, and often overlooked, step.
New research by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) identifies sustainable funding models that could cover the bulk of investments to connect every school worldwide.
A combination of such models, including community contributions and one-off government subsidies, could finance around 90 per cent of the capital and operational costs required for school connectivity, the study finds.
“When carefully planned and adequately resourced, sustainable business models for connectivity can equip learners with independence and digital skills not only for education, but also for work and life,” said Franck Luisada, BCG’s Managing Director, Senior Partner, and Global Sector Leader for Telecommunications.
BCG was engaged as an ITU Knowledge Partner under Giga – a global initiative to connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity and choice.
The Giga initiative – launched by ITU and UNICEF two years ago – advises governments on subsidizing market creation costs, incentivizing private investment, and adopting affordable, sustainable country-specific models for finance and delivery.
The new report, “Meaningful school connectivity: An assessment of sustainable business models”, explores potential funding models in Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
“The school connectivity operating models presented in this report, unique to each country’s typology and based on the experiences in Giga countries, will help drive sustainable development by delivering digital infrastructure to schools everywhere and represent a key element to school connectivity,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Making it measurable
The report outlines six main ways for countries to boost school connectivity in a sustainable manner:
1. Optimize locally: Divide countries into homogeneous areas to find optimal funding models.
2. Combine funding models: Apply multiple funding models where possible to minimize funding gaps.
3. Merge electrification and connectivity: Provide Internet and electricity together to increase revenues streams and share costs.
4. Affordability and demand stimulation: Ensure schools (and communities) can sustainably pay for connectivity.
5. NGOs empower communities: NGOs play important roles in training and mentoring communities.
6. Reforms enable sustainability: Reforms are necessary in many countries to promote long-lasting transformation.
The report advises governments and other stakeholders on ways to ensure sustainable school connectivity.
Building on previous ITU and Giga research, BCG helps to expand the initiative’s knowledge, expertise, and global presence. Giga aims to establish a minimum connectivity speed of 10 megabytes per second (Mbps) at every school on Earth by 2024.
Read the full report.
Image credit: UNICEF