Connecting Every School to the Internet
The COVID-19 outbreak has created a climate that poses a colossal threat, now and in the future, to children and their families —a grim reality especially compounded among children already affected by poverty, disability, or social exclusion.
The global school shutdowns and health crisis have exacerbated already challenging realities for lower-income countries: with the limited or non-existent infrastructure to connect to distance learning and essential services, their current education and economic stability as well as future opportunities and welfare are significantly set back. This current situation proves how critical it is to now accelerate connectivity, online learning and other initiatives for children and their communities, and drive economic stimulus.
Giga, an initiative launched by UNICEF and ITU in September 2019 to connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity and choice, is supporting the response to COVID-19, as well as looking at how connectivity can create stronger infrastructures of hope and opportunity in the "time after COVID."
Working with 14 corporate and non-profit partners, Giga maps schools' Internet access in real time, creates models for innovative financing, and supports governments contracting for connectivity. It is part of ITU's Partner2Connect Coalition, UNICEF's Reimagine Education initiative, and the UN Secretary-General's Common Agenda and Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
Giga Initiatives supporting communities during COVID-19:
- Critical Software and Content: We’re identifying, strengthening, and scaling proven and new innovations in software, learning systems, and content that support telework, tele-education, tele-health, and financial services –all of which can be deployed at low-cost, scale, and customized to local languages.
- Broadband Connectivity: We’re developing a comprehensive strategy to: map unserved schools; develop better and/or new financing programs to bring together diverse public and private funding; initiate large-scale procurement and improve transparency in monitoring.
- Digital Financial Services: Since Giga will use public blockchains for monitoring and managing payments, we are able to work with governments and providers to explore how connectivity infrastructure can also lead to extensions of online banking and electronic financial networks, potentially, enhancing the efficiency and accountability of government programs that disseminate payment.
Examples of Giga's Impact
Giga has helped the Government of Kyrgyzstan generate $200k savings per year (40% of its education connectivity budget). By seeing all the schools and their corresponding connectivity on a map, the Government was able to renegotiate contracts and subsequently reduce prices by almost half (from $50/month to $28.5/month) and to almost double speeds (from 2Mbps to 4Mbps).
In Niger, Giga developed an algorithm to approximate the location of unmapped schools based on other available data. The algorithm estimated the location of 4,758 previously unmapped schools and overlaid this with electricity data to show where schools had access. In Niamey, we successfully used very high-resolution stereo imagery to calculate building heights, providing important information for infrastructure installation planning.
In Sierra Leone, Giga worked with the government to map distance from communities to schools and to connectivity and used this to map out-of-school children as well as to identify factors (availability of basic infrastructure at schools, learning materials, teacher training) that impact learning outcomes the most.
In Colombia, Giga applied artificial intelligence techniques to automatically map schools from satellite imagery and provide the government the location of 7,000 schools that were not part of their official datasets.
In Rwanda, Giga investment in schools-level infrastructure and internet services attracted a private internet service provider to further invest in innovative core broadband infrastructure (Fixed wireless) to reach remote schools with high-speed internet, by procuring connectivity through a common bid. This led to up to 55% reduction in the average price per Mbps for schools (from average of 20USD to between 9 and 14USD per Mbps).
- Giga is anchored and recommended in the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation: Recommendation 1B which calls for the UN to create and provide access to vital “Digital Public Goods,” and Recommendation 1A which calls for universal access to connectivity.
- IHS Towers joins Giga. IHS Towers’ three-year partnership with UNICEF, which includes a contribution of US $4.5 million, will strengthen Giga’s work to map schools and their connectivity levels on an open-source map, using machine learning and satellite imagery.
- Giga launched a set of 1,000 NFT artworks to mark UNICEF’s 75th anniversary. In addition to being the UN’s largest known NFT collection, it is believed this marks the first time the UN has created NFTs based on data.
Moving full-speed to connect every school, raising public and private funding to connect every school by putting forward several countries as “accelerated” actors in Giga.
- Sharing key open-source remote education tools, as well as innovations in software, learning systems, and content that support tele-work, tele-education, tele-health, and financial services.
- Using data that is generated, for example, about school location, to provide additional insights to partners engaged in emergency response.
- Working with telecommunication / connectivity partners to use their networks and services to immediately connect disconnected schools.
- Creating financing packages for national connectivity and helping match with possible financing partners.