Todd Ashton, Vice President and Head of Ericsson South & East Africa

Ericsson and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced at the end of August a global partnership to help map school connectivity in 35 countries globally by the end of 2023.

This joint effort is part of the Giga initiative. Launched last year and led by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Giga aims to connect every school to the internet, the parties say in a media statement.

They note that Ericsson is the first private sector partner to make a multimillion-dollar commitment to the initiative and does so as a Global UNICEF Partner for School Connectivity Mapping.

Mapping the internet connectivity landscape for schools and their surrounding communities is a critical first step towards providing every child with access to digital learning opportunities, the partners said in a media statement.

Why it matters

According to Todd Ashton, Vice President and Head of Ericsson South & East Africa, the mapping will help governments and the private sector design and deploy digital interventions to support uninterrupted learning and access to quality education for all children and young people.

“Not all internet users use the internet from their home; in fact, many use it at school. Although we have broad statistics on internet usage. For example, the ITU estimates that over 53% of the world’s population used the internet in 2019, up from under 17% in 2005,” he adds. Mapping helps us understand how access at schools fits into that and where the gaps are.

In other words, before the Giga initiative can connect schools, it needs to understand where the connectivity gaps are. This is where Ericsson’s expertise is vital. Ericsson will be helping to collect, validate, analyze, visualize and monitor school connectivity data in real time. Giga will assess the data and convene governments and the private sector to design and deploy digital solutions that will ultimately enable learning for children and young people.

“The deepening digital divide is one of the many inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored,” says Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Deputy Executive Director, Partnerships, UNICEF. “School closures, coupled with limited or non-existent opportunities for remote learning, have upended children’s education worldwide. Our partnership with Ericsson will bring us closer to giving every child and young person access to digital learning opportunities.”

Ericsson says it is uniquely positioned to be a key partner in helping address this important issue due to our technology expertise, global scale, decades of experience in public/private partnerships, and proven results connecting students and educators.

“Working together with partners, like UNICEF and the ITU, amplifies the potential impact of school connectivity and is a concrete first step in helping bridge the digital divide globally,” says Heather Johnson, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson.

Africa participation

In terms of Africa's participation in the project, Ashton says Ericsson and UNICEF are still working together to assess the locations where this program is likely to have the greatest impact, and where our teams are currently allowed to travel and to operate safely.

“We are planning to share the list of the first 10 countries in the fourth quarter of this year, with the remaining countries communicated in 2021,” he says.

Way forward

Ashton says initial cash funds and resources have been committed to the project, “but the total value of the partnership will be determined over time, as we don’t yet know exactly how much time and resources will be needed to support the effort.”That said, Ericsson is the first private sector partner to make a multi-million-dollar commitment to the initiative and has agreed to commit resources for data engineering and data science capacity to accelerate school connectivity mapping, he says.

Specifically, Ericsson will assist with the collection, validation, analysis, monitoring and visual representation of real-time school connectivity data, he says. The data generated through the mapping will enable governments and the private sector to design and deploy digital solutions that enable learning for children and young people. Ericsson will also engage its extensive customer base to further advance the goals of the Giga initiative.

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