3 reasons school connectivity mapping is transformative

Two years into our innovative partnership with UNICEF, in support of Giga, the joint initiative of ITU and UNICEF, we have helped lay the foundations for more than two million children in the world. And it all starts with one essential task: mapping schools and their connectivity. Here’s why it matters.

How different do you think the quality of your life and the opportunities available to you would have been had you never experienced connectivity?

Sadly, this is the reality today for hundreds of millions of children around the world. According to ITU’s latest State of Broadband report, an estimated 2.7 billion people today lack access to connectivity, a large proportion of whom come from low-income economies. low or middle income. According to figures from UNICEF, this means that around 463 million children have not had access to distance learning during the pandemic. To put that number in context, that’s just over half of Europe’s total population.

Why it’s important to connect schools

Living without connectivity or without the skills to access the benefits of connectivity robs you of a world of opportunity. For children in particular, connectivity paves the way for a better future thanks to the growing importance of the use of digital tools and learning content in education systems and new models of blended learning.

Furthermore, it is not enough for schools to be connected, the connectivity must make sense. The report Connecting Learning Spaces: Possibilities for Hybrid Learning by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, led by ITU and UNESCO, highlights the importance of useful connectivity for schools, which allows a more more students to learn online, using multiple devices and a wider range of apps, but also offers more opportunities for experiential learning (onsite, remote, problem-based and project-based) ) in the field and on the job. Setting targets for minimum bandwidth for schools can help ensure that connectivity is sufficient, basic functionality can be carried out, and costing is realistic and transparent.

There are also the macroeconomic benefits of meaningful connectivity for schools. A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit commissioned by Ericsson concludes that an increase in GDP would follow if better school connectivity were introduced in countries that today have below-average connectivity. This same research also points to the critical role of policies and programs that promote social digital inclusion and the integration of technology into education. Simply put, connecting schools can generate substantial and far-reaching value across all sectors of society.

During the first two years of our partnership with Giga, we worked hard to understand the scope of the problem. Here are our three main conclusions:

Strong public-private partnerships are key to solving the connectivity crisis

Two years ago, Ericsson broke new ground by becoming the first private sector partner to make a multi-million dollar commitment and significant in-kind contribution to support the joint UNICEF-ITU Giga initiative. By embarking on this adventure, we have confirmed our belief, based on decades of experience in public-private partnerships, that successful partnerships cannot rely solely on financial support. On the contrary, if we add other key ingredients such as our technological leadership and our unique knowledge of the sector, we can help drive change more effectively with our partners.

By deploying technology for good, collaborating, co-creating and innovating in unprecedented ways, we have demonstrated that by working together, public and private actors can bring about real change in the world. In order to increase the impact and potential of Giga, we invite other leaders in the private space to also take this path.

In addition to its multi-million dollar commitment to Giga, Ericsson is also making an in-kind contribution by deploying the expertise of data scientists from its global AI acceleration hub to work alongside Giga’s data scientists. . In addition, we were able to count on the commitment of hundreds of Ericsson volunteers and a dedicated team of “changemakers” who contributed their skills and expertise, as well as in-depth industry knowledge and technology. of Ericsson, to solve complex problems and support the essential work of Giga.

Technical expertise and innovation are key to understanding the scale of the problem

You can’t solve a problem until you fully understand it. Identifying the underlying barriers to connectivity is the essential first step. For Giga, this means mapping the location of schools as well as connectivity and coverage levels: where are the schools, how well are they covered by existing networks (if any) and are they even connected? If they are, is the connectivity meaningful? And if they are not connected, what are the obstacles?

Today, with financial contributions and the expertise of our data scientists, we’ve helped Giga lay the foundations that have helped connect more than two million children and students around the world and that can potentially help connect millions more.

As a springboard for creating these connections, mapping internet connectivity availability in schools around the world has become a critical tool that allows Giga to identify gaps and prioritize resources and actions accordingly.

We achieved this through new methodologies and data pipelines developed by our data scientists, which allowed Giga to map the mobile network coverage of 466,371 schools in 34 countries. In doing so, in many cases and for the first time, we are bringing the unconnected to the spotlight and allowing them to be seen.

The engagement of our employees has also been a key part of this process. To support Giga in the development of its mapping solutions, we enlisted all of our employees around the world to help locate schools from satellite imagery. The results are helping Giga train critical machine learning algorithms to automate the process of identifying schools from satellite imagery. In total, our employees were able to make a massive contribution of 150,538 individual validations of 1,500 school images in South Africa, Costa Rica, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Brazil.

We need more than just connectivity, we need meaningful connectivity.

The quality and speed of connectivity also play a crucial role in ensuring that meaningful use cases are realized. Giga has identified 20 Mbps as the minimum standard for schools to support meaningful educational use cases such as working online, watching online video, supporting multiple video streams per school, and access to cloud-based applications, as recommended by the Broadband Commission’s report, Connected Learning Spaces: Opportunities for Blended Learning, released last year.

To assess and monitor connectivity performance in schools, Ericsson developers worked hand-in-hand with the Giga team to co-create a unique application that is being rolled out today to monitor and assess school connectivity on a daily basis. . The app transmits speed data from schools to UNICEF servers, allowing Giga and the schools to monitor their service quality, analyze possible improvements and hold service providers accountable.

Through innovation, effective partnerships and a drive to bring about positive change in the world. I believe that this project is one of the solutions to solve the problem of school connectivity and offer hundreds of millions of children the possibility of a better future.

While private and public actors have together made some progress in the last year to connect the unconnected, and can be proud of it, it is clear that there is still a long way to go to connect the remaining third of the world’s population. .

As the world enters a new digital age, we must never stop working to connect the unconnected and ensure equal access for all to digital tools and services, and the opportunities they provide. In pursuit of this goal, we must leave no country, city, town, school or child behind.

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