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School connectivity needed in underserved communities

Aiming to pick up the pace on digital sustainability, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) have joined forces to co-design a far-reaching digital inclusion project.

Together, the two institutions aim to help bridge the persistent global digital divide.

Despite efforts over the past decade to narrow the gap, nearly half of the planet remains unconnected. People living in rural areas – especially in developing economies – face greater access and usage constraints than those in urban areas.

Faster advances are needed in regulation, investment, technologies, and business models – particularly to achieve universal connectivity by 2030. This equates with fulfilling the current Decade of Action set out by the United Nations to accelerate sustainable development globally.

“The UK shares ITU’s ambition of closing the global digital gap,” said Ambassador Simon Manley, UK Permanent Representative to UN and other international organizations.

“For this reason, the FCDO Digital Access Programme [DAP] team has recently co-designed an exciting collaboration with ITU, to leverage each other’s expertise and ongoing digital inclusion initiatives.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has put into sharp focus the need for digital connectivity to learn, work, trade and communicate. But recent challenges have also widened the gap between people who – thanks to the Internet and digital technologies – enjoy broad access to information and opportunities, and those without.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “In a world beset by global crises, we simply cannot and will not move forward without enhanced global cooperation and a renewed emphasis on partnership.”

Complementary goals

With an initial duration of 12 months, the project focuses on five FCDO-designated DAP countries: Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Major gaps remain in all five countries in terms of affordability and access to connectivity.

ITU and the FCDO aim to complement each other’s activities, programmes and goals in relation to school and community connectivity and digital skills development.

ITU will contribute technical assistance and capacity building in four key areas:

  • Regulatory analysis, framework and tool development;
  • Expanding school connectivity sustainably in underserved communities;
  • Promoting more conducive conditions for private and public investment in digital inclusion;
  • Advancing digital skills to ensure decent jobs, especially for young people.
Aligned with UN imperatives

First announced on 25 June during the 2021 Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), the partnership embodies digital transformation, multilateralism and international cooperation – three of ten inter-related imperatives for action recently outlined by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, as he began his second term.

Teaming up with ITU – the UN specialized agency dedicated to digital transformation – can heighten the impact of UK development programmes in promoting conducive regulatory frameworks and investment environments.

The joint project aims to leverage ITU’s technical expertise and extensive stakeholder and partner network through initiatives like Giga (Connecting every school to the Internet) and Decent Jobs for Youth (Boosting decent jobs and enhancing skills for youth in Africa’s digital economy).

Collaboration with the UK’s FCDO is equally critical from ITU’s perspective, as a means to address young people’s urgent need for digital knowledge, school connectivity and digital skills training.


Image credit: Shutterstock

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