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An old textile factory in Barcelona will host the center of a UN initiative to connect all schools to the Internet. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Barcelona to host a UN agency connecting all schools in the world to the Internet

The Giga Technology Centre will work to reduce the digital divide in education

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The Government of Spain, the Catalonia Regional Government, the City of Barcelona, UNICEF and ITU are meeting this week to further develop plans for the establishment the Giga Technology Centre in Barcelona.

The partnership will advance the work of Giga — the UNICEF and the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiative to connect every school to the Internet. It will drive efforts to equip learners with information, opportunity, and choice through research and product development to increase digital connectivity in schools.

Established in 2019 with the ambitious goal to connect 2.8 million schools and 500 million children to the Internet by 2030, Giga is slowly closing the digital divide that keeps millions of children from attaining improved learning outcomes. Working with 19 governments and 14 corporate and nonprofit partners, Giga has mapped more than 1.2 million schools and connected more than 1.3 million students to the Internet. It continues to map schools’ real-time internet access, create models for innovative financing, and support governments’ design and execution of enabling policies and efficient contracts for school connectivity.  

The Technology Centre in Barcelona will lead on experimenting and creating new connectivity solutions through blockchain, satellite imagery analysis, and AI technologies — all entirely open-source. It will also provide a space for Giga, technology companies, regulators and policymakers to collaborate on digital policies in support of universal school connectivity.

This collaboration will provide Giga with the technological, financial, and political capital to complete the satellite mapping of every school in the world. It will position Giga as the preeminent global resource for the network operations data and open-source technology required to sustainably connect all schools to the Internet using AI and satellite imagery to map school locations, blockchain technology to monitor real-time connectivity status, and infrastructure and policy data to model optimal connectivity solutions.

“The essential first step to connect every learner to the internet is knowing where every school is located and how to reach them. As we set up the Giga Technology Centre, we will continue to build the open-source software to answer these fundamental questions,” said Fayaz King, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Innovation. “The engineering work started with support from the Musk Foundation, Ericsson, Dell and others will be developed and scaled in the city that hosts the Mobile World Congress and top global technology firms. This will be a game-changer for millions of learners around the world.”

Aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation in low-income countries with limited or non-existent infrastructure to connect for virtual learning and essential services, Giga's goal is to accelerate connectivity, online learning and other initiatives aimed at improving education around the world. 

“This new partnership will be a crucial catalyst allowing Giga to accelerate the development of the world’s most comprehensive open-source technology platform for enabling universal school connectivity, and is a perfect compliment to the recent establishment of our Giga Headquarters in Switzerland,” said Ms. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU.

Some examples of what Giga does:

  • In Kyrgyzstan, Giga has helped the central government generate savings of $200,000 per year (40% of its education connectivity budget). By seeing all schools and their corresponding connectivity on a map, the government was able to renegotiate contracts and subsequently cut prices by nearly half (from $50 per month to $28.5 per month) and nearly double speeds (from 2Mbps to 4Mbps). 
  • In Niger, Giga developed an algorithm to approximate the location of unmapped schools based on other available data. The algorithm estimated the location of 4,758 previously unmapped schools and overlaid it on electricity data to show where schools had access. 
  • In Colombia, Giga applied artificial intelligence techniques to automatically map schools from satellite imagery and provide the government with the location of 7,000 schools that were not part of its official datasets.  
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