Technology has increasingly become the focus of education aid and international action. However, much of these education resources are predicated on schools having reliable access to the Internet. While traveling through Mauritania, I saw computers sitting, dust-covered, on shelves because they couldn’t be kept charged, and well-designed education materials unused because they relied on Internet connectivity to work.
While many national governments have committed to connecting their schools to the Internet, few have the capability to monitor where that is occurring and on what scale. This is contributing to an increasing digital education divide, with schools already connected to the Internet receiving more technology-based resources, while schools that are disconnected are left behind. This means that students in more resource-rich environments have access to digital skills, while students in more resource-poor environments do not. With economic capacity increasingly relying on these skills and the ability to be part of the information economy, this only serves to exacerbate and widen existing inequalities. This problem couldn’t be more urgent: it is estimated that by 2030, 60 million children won’t have access to any primary education, let alone an education that prepares them for the digital economy. Action is needed now to ensure that all students have access to basic education and the resources they will need to live up to their potential. In today’s world, this begins with access to reliable Internet connectivity.
Project Connect, a new non-profit launched in partnership with the Ventures Team in UNICEF’s Office of Innovation in January 2017, recently produced the first of its kind, open-source, interactive digital platform that ultimately aims to display a map of every school in the world along with its level of Internet connectivity. As the tool continues to be developed, the data will serve to help governments and international aid actors deliver connectivity to schools currently without or with unreliable Internet. The map will also identify schools that weren’t previously mapped so that they can be integrated into governmental and non-governmental programs and resource allocation. Beyond the benefits this map will provide for education equity, the information provided can also be used during emergency response situations to help locate schools, which are often used as relief centers.
This map is in its early stages and will continue to grow as Project Connect partners with organizations and utilizes innovative technologies, such as Internet probes connected to a schools’ router to measure the quality of the internet connectivity in real time, and satellite imagery, which can help identify the location of schools using indicators such as proximity to a playground and other physical attributes.
Through technology and a focus on equity, we can create a world where every child has access to education and information. The first step is knowing where to look.