By Funmilola Gboteku
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) says it has partnered with Airtel Africa to provide access to remote learning for children in 13 sub-Saharan countries.
Fayaz King, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Field Results, who made the disclosure on Wednesday said they would also provide cash assistance for their families via mobile cash transfers.
King said that UNICEF and Airtel Africa would use mobile technology to benefit an estimated 133 million school age children currently affected by school closures in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The partnership aims to benefit children and families in Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
“The adverse effects of school closures on children’s learning are well documented. Education experts warn that gains made in increasing access to learning in the previous decade are at risk of being lost or even reversed completely.
“In most poor households around the world, the pandemic means a reduced or total loss of income due to the movement restrictions in place.
“Remote learning, supported by digital tools, is a core part of UNICEF’s response to ensure continuity of learning for those children with access to technology at home,” he said in a statement
King noted that Airtel Africa would zero-rate selected websites hosting educational content, which would provide children with remote access to digital content at no cost.
According to him, COVID-19 is affecting access to information and education at an unprecedented scale and worldwide, most children are not in school.
He said that children not going to school could lead to a number of increased vulnerabilities and setbacks.
“UNICEF is partnering with Airtel Africa to deliver better outcomes for children and families affected by widespread closures.
“The partnership will also provide UNICEF with a means to facilitate vital cash assistance to alleviate financial barriers for some of the most vulnerable families across the region.
“This includes many affected by the growing socio-economic hardships resulting from suspension of income-earning activities.
“This will help ensure families have additional resources to cope with the ongoing health and economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” King said.
Similarly, Raghunath Mandava, Airtel Africa Chief Executive Officer, said that some effective ways to cushion families from the effects of the crisis was by providing free internet access to selected educational websites.
He said this would help children keep up with their learning during the school closures.
“Alongside various other COVID-19-related initiatives and support that we are providing to governments and the community, we are glad to also collaborate with UNICEF to support children,” Mandava said.