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Equal access to education can change the world – but we need to work together on it

08 Dec 2021Vodafone Foundation news
7 minute read

When our Vodafone Foundation team last met Fugia, a 20-year-old alumnus of Instant Network Schools in Kenya, she was about to travel home for the holidays - and her post-exam nerves were getting the better of her.

“I really pray that I pass,” she said. Her dream of becoming a doctor was hanging in the balance.

For the millions of children globally who are able to access an education, school years frame the course of their lives.

But Fugia is not just any student. Having grown up in Kakuma refugee camp, which is home to 160,000 refugees, the odds have been stacked against her all her life: many in her community saw no value in girls pursuing an education.

“My greatest achievement is finishing high school,” she told us. “It wasn’t easy. It’s been all about ups and downs. My thirst for education was so strong that I chose to still go through it.”

 Fugia had to fight for her right to learn. Her mother, worried about what others were saying, had suggested she drop out of school. It took a demonstration on a tablet, showing how the circulatory system worked, to illustrate to her the power of technology-supported learning and convince her to let her daughter remain in school. 

Fugia uses mobile technology to help her learn

She was supported by Instant Network Schools, (INS), which Vodafone Foundation established in 2013 in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to give young refugees, host communities and their teachers access to digital learning content and the internet, improving the quality of education in some of the most marginalised communities in Africa. She went on to win a scholarship to study in Mombasa, and credits access to technology and connectivity with empowering her to follow her dreams.

More children need our support

Fugia’s story is shared by too many children globally. There are over 80 million refugees or forcibly displaced people in the world, the equivalent of the population of Germany, Vodafone’s biggest market.

Almost half of those displaced are children. The average stay in a camp is more than 20 years, meaning many children do their entire schooling in a camp, isolated from the outside world.

Just under half of child refugees are out of school – and access decreases as children go up the education ladder, with just 31% of refugees accessing secondary school against a global average of over 60%. And just 3% of refugees attend university, compared to a global average of 34%.

Working together to make a change

Educating the next generation and making sure no one is left behind is one of the most important investments we can make for our societies and the future of our planet. For that reason, it is recognised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG four - an inclusive and equitable education for all).

When UNHCR reached out to our Foundation back in 2013 asking for support to provide connectivity in a camp hosting 200,000 refugees in South Sudan, we knew we had a unique opportunity to use the power of our connectivity and technology for good.

Since then, our partnership has grown to connect over 100,000 devices for migrants and asylum seekers in camps in Greece and Spain. Through Instant Network Schools It’s also provided education to over 130,000 refugees and host community students in Africa, in both camps and public schools in urban areas.  

Through our public-private partnership with UNHCR, we provide a holistic end-to-end technology solution including power, hardware, software, digital content, connectivity, training and a dedicated team (largely employee volunteer-based).

Our progress against an ambitious goal

So far, we have deployed 56 Instant Network Schools in six African countries reaching close to 130,000 students and will deploy 30 additional new schools by March 2022.

This has helped significantly improve ICT literacy among students and teachers. We often see better exam results in INS vs non-INS students, and our goal is for 25% more students to sit and pass their exams.

A teacher using mobile connectivity during an Instant Network Schools lesson

Most recently, as part of World Refugee Day in June, we launched two new schools in the Maratane Refugee Settlement in Mozambique benefitting nearly 9,000 students, 25,000 family members and employing over 200 teachers.

We have also expanded into Egypt. The footballer Mohamed Salah, in his capacity as INS Ambassador, recently made a virtual visit to a class of students supported by the programme. Their faces lit up when he arrived; it was an experience many of them will never forget.

The pandemic has meant that we have had to adapt INS, which is largely school based. We have built more capacity in INS countries to overcome the challenge of travel restrictions for our international staff, and we have increased local ownership. We have also trained UNHCR education staff online, instead of in person, and found creative ways of increasing our impact despite the challenges.

We still believe the future of education will largely be at school, so we want to empower teachers to deliver a gradual and lasting transformation in teaching methods whether in person or online – in much the same way many work environments have seen accelerated change since the pandemic began.

Sustainable growth is at the heart of our strategy

Having operated in Africa for nearly 30 years, we manage two of the most successful brands on the continent - Vodacom and Safaricom – as well as trading with our own Vodafone brand in Egypt and Ghana. Through programmes such as Instant Network Schools, we reinvest some of our profits back into developing the markets in which we operate. Supporting young learners who are key to the successful futures of those countries is a great example of the sustainable ecosystem we are focused on building.

We’ve been supporting our African markets in new ways during the pandemic. Our donation of €30 million worth of money and services has helped over 1.6 million Africans access free educational services, in addition to those educated by Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network Schools. This isn't just a core part of being a successful multinational – we see it as our moral duty.

And the same goes for helping global communities get through the pandemic. So far, we have made a monetary and in-kind contribution of over €150 million. This has included enabling millions of students to access digital education and giving them free data. We’ve also rolled out low-cost tariffs for vulnerable groups and supported many small businesses through these tough times.

We supported the public health effort with €3.9 million in devices and funds, as well as nearly one billion free text messages and calls for public health education and access to zero rated health sites that were used by 14 million people. Our mVacciNation product has also supported 15m Covid vaccinations in South Africa and we are working to roll that out more widely as we recognise the real need for health technology infrastructure to ensure that the vaccines supplied end up in the arms of the people who need them.  To help achieve this, we have pledged €5 million for cold chain equipment in the African market.

And we’ve stepped up our response to the climate crisis. Today, our entire European operations – including mobile and fixed networks, data centres, retail and offices – are 100% powered by electricity from renewable sources, using energy generated from solar, wind or hydro. This is a key step towards our goal of reducing our own carbon emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2030.

Working more effectively together

All these initiatives have helped reset the relationship between policymakers and our sector. The networks we run and the services we operate were vital in keeping societies and economies functioning during lockdown and now we are viewed as a critical element of nations’ recovery plans. In Europe, there is around €750 billion worth of funds and loans earmarked to invest in the recovery, of which a significant proportion is allocated to digital and green initiatives.

We connect for a better future

Vodafone is perfectly placed to help governments drive this recovery, through our digital solutions for SMEs, our e-health and education solutions, and our IoT platform, the largest in Europe, which drives huge carbon savings for our customers.

Looking to the future, we will always be committed to building sustainable growth within the communities in which we operate. And, as we execute the important second phase of our strategic transformation, we will also remain fully focused on driving shareholder returns.

We are looking forward to seeing more and more real-world examples of the difference we’re making – through stories like Fugia’s, which make everything we’re doing feel worthwhile.

  • SDG 4
  • Africa
  • Digital skills & Education
  • Health
  • Human rights
  • Inclusion
  • SDG 10
  • SDGs
  • Vodafone Foundation

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