Africa needs accelerated ICT, renewable energy investment

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Dr Huber Gijzen, UNESCO regional director for Southern Africa. (Photo source: Young People Today)
Dr Huber Gijzen, UNESCO regional director for Southern Africa. (Photo source: Young People Today)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shown Africa needs to accelerate investment in renewable energy and ICT infrastructure.

This is according to Dr Huber Gijzen, regional director for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Southern Africa, highlighting the importance of inclusive distance learning in times of crisis.

UNESCO is a specialised agency of the United Nations that seeks to build peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

Speaking on the occasion of Huawei’s partnership with 23 South African TVET colleges, Gijzen said over one billion students have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The outbreak of the virushas seen millions of people rely on ICT to work, study, care for others and keep in touch with loved ones.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic has affected the education sector at large, for the African continent, it has exposed weaknesses such as low energy and ICT infrastructure, according to Gijzen.

“What the crisis has taught us is that indeed it is not easy to mobilise distance learning modalities in Africa because so many learners are not connected to Internet or ICT infrastructure. We estimate less than 20% have connectivity.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50% of schools are not even connected to an energy source or to the grid. This tells us that Africa needs to accelerate investment in renewable energy and ICT infrastructure.”

Promoting investment in ICT infrastructure is an area that Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, strongly advocates, particularly for the continent.

Delivering his keynote address at the “Broadband for All – Midsummer 2020” online conference yesterday, Zhao said the needs for this type of investment are tremendous.

According to Zhao, Africa alone would require an estimated $9 billion in investment to double the current ratio of broadband connectivity by 2021, and an estimated additional $100 billion to bring everybody online on the continent by 2030.

“The coronavirus pandemic shines a spotlight on the vital importance of digital technologies and services, but also on startling digital disparities.

“We need to mobilise governments, operators, equipment manufacturers, investors and vertical industries, including both large and small companies, to accelerate progress toward bridging the broadband divide effectively and rapidly. Only by bringing the broadband industry together will we be able to meet these challenges.”

To address some of the distance learning challenges on the continent, UNESCO has, according to Gijzen, rolled out a number of initiatives, including a renewable energy project for schools and communities.

The regional director said the initiative combines four components, namely renewable energy infrastructure, which initially starts with the schools and rolls out to the community; ICT in education, which looks at curricula approaches in education for sustainable development and the community; TVET and entrepreneurship building.

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