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Broadband ‘the missing link’ in global access to education

New report from the Broadband Commission highlights strategies for leveraging high-speed networks to realize dream of ‘Education for All’

Geneva, 25 February 2013 – Broadband networks have the potential to radically alter the education landscape, creating prestigious new centres of learning in the developing world, extending access to distance learning programmes to outlying communities, and helping poorer countries retain high-performing students who can help lift their nations out of poverty by serving as local entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers, according to a new report just released by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda, the outcome report of the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Education, provides a vision of how access to high-speed technologies over both fixed and mobile platforms can be extended so that students and teachers everywhere can reap the benefits – for themselves and for their communities.

Distance learning strategies can not only help nations educate children and adults living in remote communities, but broadband-based education programmes could also become a source of income for those national higher education institutions that succeed in designing compelling, world class curriculums tailored to the needs of the billions living in the developing world.

The report is the result of collaborative input from a large number of Commissioners and their organizations, including Alcatel-Lucent, the Connect-to-Learn partnership (The Earth Institute, Colombia University/Ericsson/Millennium Promise), Intel, the Inter-American Development Bank, Broadband Commissioners Suvi Lindén, Jasna Matić and Ivo Ivanovski, and Special Advisor to the Commission, Paul Budde.

The report emphasizes the importance of deployment of broadband as a means of accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education and UNESCO’s Education for All goals. It recognizes that participation in the global economy is increasingly dependent on skills in navigating the digital world, but warns that traditional school curricula still tend to prioritize the accumulation of knowledge above its application, and fail to train students in the ICT literacy skills they will need to ensure their employability in tomorrow’s knowledge economy.

The current state of education: Who’s not in school?

According to UNESCO, which served as lead author of the report, in 2010 61 million children of primary-school age, and a further 71 million of lower secondary-school age, were not in school. UNESCO estimates that 1.7 million extra teachers will be needed to achieve universal primary education. In addition, close to 793 million adults – 64% of them women – lacked literacy skills, with the lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.

And who is online?

ITU estimates that, by end 2012, there were close to 2.5 billion people using the Internet – but only around 25% of people living in the developing world. In the UN-designated Least Developed Countries, that number drops to a mere 6%. The latest edition of ITU’s Measuring the Information Society report reveals wide global and regional disparities in both the level of ICT development and the cost of monthly broadband access, which in some 17 countries worldwide still represents over 100% of an average monthly salary.

The report confirms that, by 2009 in OECD countries, some 93% of 15-year-olds had access to a computer and the Internet at school, with a ratio of eight students per computer. In developing countries, on the other hand, access to ICT facilities remains a major challenge. For example, a study in Kenya, published in 2010, stated that only 3% of schools had Internet access, while in most African countries there are on average 150 schoolchildren per computer.

While fixed broadband infrastructure constitutes the bulk of high-speed connectivity for many countries, the ICT service with the steepest growth rate is mobile broadband. According to ITU figures, in 2011, growth in mobile broadband services was 40% globally and 78% in developing countries, where it is often the only way of connecting to the Internet. But a gulf in accessibility remains. At the end of 2011, the penetration level for mobile broadband was only around 4% in Africa (and close to 8% in developing countries as a whole), compared with 51% in the developed world.

“The ability of broadband to improve and enhance education, as well as students’ experience of education, is undisputed,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Toure. “A good and well-rounded education is the basis on which future livelihoods and families are founded, and education opens up minds, as well as job prospects. A student in a developing country can now access the library of a prestigious university anywhere in the world; an unemployed person can retrain and improve their job prospects in other fields; teachers can gain inspiration and advice from the resources and experiences of others. With each of these achievements, the online world brings about another real-world victory for education, dialogue, and better understanding between peoples.”

“Much progress has been made to reach the 2015 goals – but many countries are still not on track,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who co-chairs the Broadband Commission with ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Toure. “In this respect, the digital divide continues to be a development divide. The ongoing mobile and internet revolutions provide all countries, especially developing and least developed ones, with unprecedented opportunities. We must make the most of broadband to widen access to quality education for all and to empower all citizens with the knowledge, skills and values they need to live and work successfully in the digital age.”

Policy recommendations

The report endorses a number of strategies that governments (particularly those in the developing world) and other stakeholders involved in education should embrace in order to reap the full benefits of ICTs:

  1. Increase access to ICTs and broadband

  2. Incorporate ICTs into job training and continuing education

  3. Teach ICT skills and digital literacy to all educators and learners

  4. Promote mobile learning and open educational resources

  5. Support the development of content adapted to local contexts and languages

  6. Work to bridge the digital divide

The report will be presented to all Commissioners at the 7th meeting of the Broadband Commission, which takes place on March 17 in Mexico City, hosted by the Carlos Slim Foundation.

An Executive Summary of the report’s findings can be found at: www.broadbandcommission.org/work/working-groups/education/Education_report_summary.pdf.

Download the full version of the new report at:


Download a 1-page ‘highlights’ document at: www.broadbandcommission.org/work/working-groups/education/Education_report_highlights.pdf

For more information on the Broadband Commission, visit: www.broadbandcommission.org

Follow the Broadband Commission on Facebook: www.facebook.com/broadbandcommission

Follow the Broadband Commission on Twitter: www.itu.int/twitter

For more information, please contact:


Sarah Parkes
Chief, Media Relations and Public Information
tel +41 22 730 6135
tel +41 79 599 1439
tel sarah.pakres@itu.int

Sue Williams
Chief, Media Section, Office of Public Information
tel +33 1 45 68 17 06
tel  s.williams@unesco.org
Note for media: ITU’s video newsroom provides fast access to broadcast-quality footage and news packages. See: www.itu.int/en/newsroom/Pages/videos.aspx


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