According to estimates by UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), some 1.3 billion children between the ages of 3 and 17 lack access to the internet. Faced with the situation in more developed countries, such as Spain, in which the problem with this age group is sometimes the opposite –excess exposure on the internet, especially on social networks–, the data shows the lack of connectivity of much of the childhood of the planet, a problem that ends up weighing down the competitiveness of the less fortunate economies.
These children not only miss out on the possibilities of a connected education, such as the personalization of content and learning rhythms, the elimination of distances and access to a much greater amount of information. In the most disadvantaged areas of the world, and also in rural environments of prosperous economies, school can also be the place where basic digital skills are acquired, a pillar for greater future labor productivity.
There is a line between connectivity, knowledge and prosperity, and in many educational settings it is essential that it not be broken. “The connectivity of education does not guarantee its quality, but a quality school needs connectivity. The right to connectivity should be absolute ”, affirms Carmen Pellicer, director of Pedagogy Notebooks and the Trilema Foundation, which is dedicated to educational research and innovation and has developed specific educational projects in Spain, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
Against the fetishism of appliances
Pellicer defends that technology is essential to close educational gaps, and in the second instance social, but warns against the fetishism of devices; the key is not in tablets or computers, but in the school itself and in people; “The effectiveness of technology in education depends more on the digital competence of teachers than that of students,” he says. For her, the key is “the ecosystem”, in which the school is fundamental. “It gives the whole gear an infrastructure and has enormous power to create alliances. That’s why we miss it so much when it closed at the beginning of the pandemic. We have discovered that presence is a treasure ”.
“The lack of connectivity in schools especially affects the less favored populations”, stresses Rossella Cardone, director of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility of Ericsson for Europe and Latin America. “If we do not solve it, those students of today will be less competitive workers tomorrow, and their country less prosperous, since there is a relationship between the educational level and the productivity of the economy,” he adds. Thus, a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) financed by Ericsson explains that the GDP per capita of a country could grow by 1.1% for every ten percentage points of increase in school connectivity.
The Swedish multinational works in collaboration with Unicef on the Giga project with the aim of connecting all schools in the world to the internet by 2030. As a result of a three-year agreement signed in 2020 with the organization, Ericsson is helping to identify school connectivity gaps in 35 countries on all continents, with special emphasis on Africa, America and Asia, contributing their knowledge in big data and artificial intelligence. Knowing in detail the capillarity of connectivity is the first step to work on the ground, increasing the possibilities of digital learning.
The lack of connectivity in schools especially affects the least favored populations. If we don’t fix it, those students will be less competitive workers, and their country less prosperous.
Rossella Cardone, Director of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson for Europe and Latin America
Improving connectivity also increases opportunities for young people in more developed economies, where not everyone has the same opportunities. Ericsson also develops programs in places like Texas (United States). In the northeast of that State, it has developed a program to combat the gender gap in the so-called STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), using Fixed Wireless Access technology, which provides connectivity to rural environments with the same quality than fiber optics, but at a much more affordable cost.
The European case
According to ITU data, Europe is the world region with the highest percentage of individuals using the internet, tripling the figures for Africa. More than connectivity itself, the European challenge is to optimize the deployment of the 5G network, which can help to close social gaps, such as educational or territorial.
Elena Berruguete, Director of Institutional and Government Relations at Ericsson for the Iberian Peninsula, argues that the deployment of 5G can stop the process of abandonment of rural areas in Spain: “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that everyone matters, and everyone must have the same opportunities, for example access to connectivity that allows resorting, when necessary, to distance education and, ultimately, to a higher quality education ”, he defends.
However, according to data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation, 14% of the population in rural areas does not have a service of more than 30 Mbps (megabits per second), and more than half do not have access to networks of more than 100 Mbps.
Spain now has the opportunity to provide these rural areas with 5G connectivity, opening the door to a significant improvement in its schools. After those held in 2018 and 2020, the third auction of frequencies for fifth generation networks has just been closed, “but the final push may be the arrival of EU recovery funds, of which the Government plans to allocate some 2,000 million euros to 5G ”, concludes Berruguete.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that everyone matters, and everyone should have the same opportunities, for example access to connectivity that allows the use of distance education
Elena Berruguete, Director of Institutional and Government Relations at Ericsson for the Iberian Peninsula
“The pandemic made European leaders see the opportunity to respond to social gaps through technology,” Cardone contextualizes, “but in this case we are not only talking about a technology, but also a platform for innovation. With 5G, Europe has an opportunity to transform all business operations, from agriculture to industry, achieving a greener and more inclusive society ”, he concludes.