GIGA is the UNICEF / ITU project to connect every school on the planet to the internet. It is a big task: there are likely about two million schools still unconnected.GIGA has provided a recent update on current efforts. Highlights include:
9 of 11 states in the Eastern Caribbean (OECS) are now fully connected.
Active programs mapping school connectivity are underway in Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda.
Kazakhstan is taking the lead in Central Asia programs, including integrating over 10,000 schools into GIGA global mapping platform.
GIGA is moving forward with mapping, connectivity, content and finance programs in many countries, with current priority on Kenya, Niger, Sierra Leone, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.
Simultaneously, the large tech firms are making progress in connectivity issues. Loon is now operating commercially in Kenya and Peru and seeks to scale. SpaceX has announced initial commercial services in the US at the end of 2020, with global service offerings in 2021. There are many open questions around services and costs from Loon, SpaceX and others, but major infrastructure is being built.
Under ideal circumstances increased connectivity through new services and GIGA’s comprehensive schools database can lead to rapid extension of school connectivity over the next few years.
A major secondary effect of the pandemic is the creation of a global education crisis. UNESCO estimates that over 1.5 billion children worldwide are currently out of school in over 180 countries.
In response, UNESCO has launched the Global Education Consortium, a network of public and private sector organizations coordinating to address global education challenges. The Consortium includes multilaterals (WHO, UNHCR, ILO), private sector (Microsoft, Facebook, Zoom, Coursera), philanthropies (Khan Academy, Sesame Street), and many others.
One major challenge is that many children do not have access to online resources. In a number of countries (and some states in the US), instruction is now happening by television and in some cases by radio.
If there were a silver lining to this rapid shift to online learning, it is that as broadband reaches more communities in coming years, online resources will be better developed due to the challenges the world now faces with education during a pandemic.
Google.org is Google’s philanthropic arm that directs corporate resources to global problems of importance. Principal areas of focus include education, training, and social justice.
Google.org’s education efforts are divided between domestic and global efforts. Internationally, Google.org supports dozens of initiatives involving curriculum development, teacher support, connectivity issues, refugee education, and other topics.
One example initiative is Pratham Books in India which provides online tools for translation of books into local languages. The majority of books published in India are in English or Hindi despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people speak local languages. Pratham Books now offers titles in 60 languages.
Tools to translate books and curricular materials into local languages are relevant in many countries now expanding internet connectivity. Half the world’s population speaks one of five languages (English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi). The other half speaks over 6,000 languages. The internet will need to become much more multilingual as the next three billion people come online.