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Connecting Africa’s Future Leaders To Digital Education (II)
Published Mar 23, 2023 IN Opinion,
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Continues from previous edition


LIKE other socially responsible corporate citizens, Airtel Africa, through her operations in 14 Afri­can countries, joined hands with African leaders to bridge the yawning learning gap occasioned by the school closures due to the Covid-19 lockdowns. On her part, Airtel Africa zero-rated several government-approved websites and digi­tal learning platforms to enable teaching and learning. This proved to be a great palliative, but like every known pal­liative, it did not adequately address the needs. For example, there were millions of children who, due to their unavoidable circumstances of poverty and locations could not afford the devices to access the free online educational resources, where they existed. In other cases, it was impos­sible to access the websites and platforms due to lack of internet facilities as most parts of the continent are still low on teledensity (number of mobile telephone users per 1000 population).

In acknowledgment of these huge and dangerous gaps and the potential of digi­tal connectivity, I therefore, Airtel Africa, in pursuit of her vision to Transform the Lives of Africans, decided to invest $57m in the provision of Access to Quality Education, which later became one of the pillars of her Sustainability Strategy. At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Airtel Africa announced a 5-year partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to deliver this initiative, which in spirit and letter aims at connecting a minimum of 1400 schools and a million children to digital education.

In my honest opinion, there couldn’t have been a better partnership than this, with two institutions very passionate about and highly invested in the future of the African child. Personally, it has been an honor and privilege leading the Airtel Africa team co-creating and co-delivering the plans and activities in pursuit of this noble cause. As I pen this piece, three countries namely Kenya, Nigeria and Madagascar (in that order) have launched the initiative. 10 other countries, Chad, Niger, DRC, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda and Rwanda will launch before March 31, 2023, all things being equal.

By launch, we mean connecting selected government schools, especially those in remote communities, to the internet using Airtel’s high-speed internet and provid­ing digital devices like tablets, laptops, desktop computers or television sets. It also means zero-rating and granting ac­cess to some government-approved edu­cational websites and learning platforms for teachers and children of not only the selected schools but the entire commu­nities. In Kenya, for example, 30 schools were connected, and two platforms were zero-rated namely Elimika (for teachers) and Kenya Education Cloud (for students), with over 600 teachers and 20,000 stu­dents already using the resources.

Not unexpectedly, it has not all been smooth sailing. There are still some ob­stacles on the way. For instance, the level of commitment to and understanding of the importance and urgency of this inter­vention are not at the same high levels across the continent. Hence, we still have some governments insisting that either Airtel Africa or UNICEF or both pay(s) tax for providing free data to enable children of their countries not only to continue learning but to also sort of catch up with their peers in other parts of the world. In any event, it is not a lost cause, I believe, because as we make headway in some countries, others will begin to appreci­ate the need to make hay while the sun is still shinning.

Interestingly, the third pillar of this initiative (one is connecting schools and two is zero-rating websites) is to engage in advocacy in support of providing access to digital education. So, between Airtel Africa and UNICEF, we will continue to engage the various governments and educational authorities to make them ap­preciate the enormity of the challenge, the urgency of the solutions and the impor­tance of partnering with us to empower the future leaders of Africa. Of course, it goes without saying that our arms are wide open and outstretched to welcome partners, who are also passionate about and invested in this pursuit as we are. The larger the ecosystem, the better!

I also believe there is a whole lot to be said about the state of educational infrastructure across the African continent. In many of the countries, public schools are either literally nonexistent or totally decrepit. Some children still trek over 10 kilometers to attend school while some study under the shade of trees. Sometimes, one wonders how a school without desks and chairs or even blackboards could be amenable to digitization. This is where the words of the Group CEO and Managing Director of Airtel Africa, Dr. Segun Ogunsanya, resonates with us, the advocates and champions of this movement. According to him, “we need to think of new ways of learning beyond the construct of the four walls of a classroom.” This is the future. This is the way to go. Airtel Africa and UNICEF are irrefragably dedicated to re-imagining education to meet Africa’s post-Covid-19 and indeed 21st century realities. That in essence, my dear friend, is what this whole story is all about. Thank you.

At the end of the two-day Airtel Africa- UNICEF Convention, having looked back at what we have done, what we are yet to do, as well as the challenges and the lessons, we leave reassured that we are doing the right thing-at the right time. The next four years will test our capabilities, but we are all going back to our various countries or OPCOs (as we say in Airtel parlance) feeling privileged to be part of such a noble objective, indeed a sacred mandate, to empower Africa’s future leaders.

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