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Giga transforms lives in rural Rwanda, one school at a time

By ITU News

As the developed world explores Web3 and upgrades to 5G cellular networks, many rural communities in developing countries remain far away from basic infrastructure like a simple Internet connection.

Even people with access often struggle to stay connected or to benefit meaningfully from their connectivity. Rwanda – host of the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – provides a case in point.

While nearly all schools in the East African country lie within 30 kilometres of a fibre network or mobile broadband coverage areas, 43 per cent of them – or 1,796 schools – still lack Internet access.

Prototyping connectivity

Enter Giga – an initiative by ITU and UNICEF to connect every last one of the world’s schools. In 2019, the initiative joined forces with the Government of Rwanda to implement a prototype operational model in the country.

The pilot project in 63 schools resulted in a quadrupling of capacity and a 55 per cent cost reduction, comparing the fixed wireless solution to the 4G connectivity that schools used to receive. This prototyping exercise also aims to explore ways to extend connectivity from schools to their surrounding communities.

As a first step, the government worked with Giga to aggregate the demand for connectivity across schools in the country’s Eastern Province. The partners then launched a common bid to provide broadband Internet connectivity to 63 schools: 50 in the predominantly rural Eastern Province and 13 in refugee camps that had no electricity.

One of the selected prototype schools was G.S. Nyagihunika, located in Eastern Province’s Bugesera District on the outskirts of Rwanda’s capital Kigali.

Witnessing change

On 8 June, G.S. Nyagihunika staff and local district mayor Richard Mutabazi welcomed visitors from Rwanda’s government, the private sector, and development partners UNICEF and ITU.

The visit, coinciding with WTDC sessions held 40 kilometres away at the Kigali Convention Centre, aimed to showcase how connecting schools can unlock more inclusive educational opportunities, as well as demonstrate Giga’s progress in Rwanda. 

Following a tour of the school led by the headmaster, visitors participated in brief interactive lessons to observe how Internet-connected laptops are helping local educators teach students. 

“The Internet gives us access to videos and songs, which not only makes it easier for the children to learn but also to focus on the content,” Jeanine Mutesi, a teacher at G.S. Nyagihunika, told ITU News.

Students are enjoying the benefits, she added.

 Internet access has also made the classroom experience more rewarding for teachers, enabling them research and demonstrate specific concepts in meaningful and engaging ways. 

“Some concepts are not easy to teach using the analogue method of writing on a blackboard,” said Allan Kirenga, who teaches science at the school. Internet access enables him to project images or simple experiments, as well as complement his lesson planning.

“Sometimes the books we are provided with don’t have sufficient information,” added Kirenga. “The Internet expands our scope of knowledge and the content that we teach.”

Community benefits

The benefits of connectivity also extend to residents of the Bugesera district.

“Some community members come close to the campus to use our Internet connection,” noted Kirenga. “You find some of them uploading CVs in response to job offerings, while others use it to read the news.”

Strengthening the school’s connection could help more residents gain Internet access from outside the school premises. Offering community hotspots with free connectivity – a trend found in some areas in Kigali – could be another solution, Kirenga added.

The visitors headed back to Kigali with these ideas for improvement in mind, along with first-hand insights on how Giga is transforming education at G.S. Nyagihunika and beyond.

Starting with computers and an Internet connection, other underserved communities in developing countries can follow similar steps, advancing towards meaningful universal connectivity one school at a time.

Meanwhile, back at WTDC, ITU Member States adopted a resolution on ‘Connecting every school to the internet and every young person to information and communication technology services’, mentioning Giga as key vehicle to achieve this goal.

Switzerland pledged to host the headquarters of Giga in Geneva. Announcing the plan, the Swiss Confederation said the new office would serve as a unique collaboration point, bridging the worlds of finance and international digital development.

Image credit: ITU/ M. Jacobson-Gonzalez 

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