Reducing the digital skills gap in East Africa: the example of Avanti Communications

Tom Whitehill, Head of International Development Projects and Siobhan Lynch, Group Strategy Manager for Avanti Communications talk about iMlango, the company’s flagship program to provide broadband connectivity to primary and secondary schools in East Africa. Seven years after it was introduced it has now reached over 180 000 youth in more than 240 schools. In this video, Tom and Siobhan also shares some lessons learned.

Tom Whitehill (TW):
Hello. My name’s Tom Whitehill and I’m Head of the International Development Projects here at Avanti Communications.

Siobhan Lynch (SL): And I’m Siobhan Lynch, Group Strategy Manager for Avanti Communications. Avanti as an organisation founded on the belief that technology would be an enabler to the African continent, allowing it to develop. For 15 years we have launched satellites to deliver high-throughput broadband to areas where it is difficult to reach. Our mission is to enable people, countries, and continents to be more. Education is one key step in the journey to success. By encouraging education, we can help children to build a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. We are passionate about global education and the advances EdTech can make to drive developments of education in rural and remote areas. Given this, we have been the lead partner in the consortium for iMlango for the past 7 years.

SL: We have been involved in iMlango for 7 years. What are the key achievements over the past period of time?

TW: We have connected 205 primary and 40 secondary schools which has allowed us to reach around 180,000 children, mostly marginalised girls. We have provided them with satellite enabled broadband Internet and then content in numeracy, literacy and life skills and all the wraparound that goes with this, including ICT labs and support structure. iMlango has been able to prove educational gains, particularly in maths, where before iMlango, children were improving six months of maths age for every year. Now, post iMlango, that’s 18 months. So not only are they gaining what they should be, they’re also gaining what they previously lost.

SL: That’s remarkable and incredible. And from what I’ve heard, the children are also really excited about school now.

TW: Yeah. So, where we have a school with the iMlango project in it close to one that doesn’t have iMlango, the iMlango school would be oversubscribed in terms of attendance and that’s really positive because not only are we improving our educational outcomes, we’re also increasing attendance.

SL: Over the past 7 years, we’ve obviously learned significant lessons by implementing the project in Kenya. Key of these lessons is driving education outcomes is not merely about attendance. It’s not the typical build it and they will come, but rather that we need to focus on those activities that are allowing the children to learn better. For example, we’ve learned that teacher upskilling improves the quality of teacher training, thereby improving the learning outcomes the children are able to attain. In addition to that, community involvement increases the value placed on education, which therefore leads to more children going to school more often. We can also think about a gender specialist to increase the awareness of behaviours that marginalise girls even more throughout school.

TW: It is very important that buy-in for the Ministry of Education is achieved at the start of the project. This will enable the schools to really take on ownership and increase sustainability once the project funding ends. In terms of ICT infrastructure, it is important that the correct infrastructure is provided at the beginning, which will survive some of the tough conditions they have in these schools and minimise the chance of theft. Avanti Communications is going to show high ambition. We want to connect as many children across as many schools across as many countries as possible in sub-Saharan Africa. This will allow us to replicate the remarkable learning outcomes we’ve proved in project iMlango. We have an initial target of 3 to 5 countries over 15,000 schools and connecting 2 to 3 million children. We will focus on only doing the activities that have provable gains enabled by our satellite broadband Internet.

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