• Global growth and development depend on giving every child the opportunity to learn, grow, develop and gain skills. And doing so urgently.
  • By combining public and private funding, ideas and commitment, the digital divide can be bridged and education reimagined.
  • By 2030, UNICEF, working with the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution, and through the Generation Unlimited partnership, wants all 3.5 billion children and young people to have access to world-class digital learning.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.6 billion children had their schooling disrupted — that’s nine out of every 10 children in over 190 countries worldwide.

Worse still, about one-third of these children had no access to remote learning tools at all, like online classes.

Around the world, hundreds of millions of students lack internet access. They are on the wrong side of the digital divide — at a cost to their learning, their ability to build skills, and to leapfrog to a brighter future.

The education-growth equation

But these young learners aren’t the only ones paying a high price.

The World Bank estimates a $10 trillion-dollar loss of earnings for this cohort of children and young people if we do not urgently improve learning outcomes as a result of COVID-19 school closures. This cost will be borne not only by these young people — but by entire economies desperate for growth.

Global economic growth is not automatic, and COVID-19 has dramatically increased the urgent need for a Global Reset.

A first step in driving this growth is to support children and young people — our future innovators, leaders, employees and entrepreneurs. Global growth and development depend on giving every child every opportunity to learn, grow, develop and gain skills. And doing so urgently.

Reimagining education

By combining public and private funding, ideas and commitment, we can bridge the digital divide, re-imagine education, and put learning, skills and economic opportunity in the hands of every child and young person everywhere. By thinking big, these initiatives can be transformative and far-reaching.

How? By combining universal internet connectivity with tools like digital technology, artificial intelligence, and increasingly “smart” devices. This represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine education, and help reach children and young people with the learning and skills they need.

By embracing this pace of change and recognizing that we can rebuild and think in new ways for the systems of the future, we can provide all children with a comprehensive set of skills — the foundational, transferable, digital, entrepreneurial and jobs-specific skills that they require – to transition into adulthood successfully.

Here are 5 ways UNICEF is delivering on this ambition:

1. Safe schools
For schools that are able to open, UNICEF is working with our partners to ensure that they can do so safely. This includes adopting flexible approaches, providing sufficient resources for teachers to be adequately protected and supported, and ensuring that learning remains safe for all students.

2. Remote learning support
At the same time, UNICEF is also supporting remote learning for over 227 million children. This includes delivering textbooks to remote locations, supporting educational radio broadcasts, and reaching children with education where they live, including via SMS, WhatsApp groups and podcasts.

3. Innovation
But we’re also joining forces with innovators to reimagine digital learning tools for children and young people.

For example, UNICEF, Microsoft and Cambridge University have joined forces to put education and quality learning in the hands of every child, through the Learning Passport. It’s an online platform that gives children and youth access to their school curriculum online, wherever they are — including textbooks and instructions in their national language.

4. Connectivity
But learning tools must be matched by the connectivity to use them.

To expand connectivity, we’re working with public and private partners around our GIGA initiative to expand internet access to every child, every community and every school by 2030.

As part of this, we recently launched a global partnership with Ericsson to help map school connectivity in 35 countries by the end of 2023. A critical first step towards providing every child with access to digital learning opportunities. This generation of young people needs our support to shape their minds and skills for the future.

5. Skills for jobs and growth
A modern education should build and accredit basic skills, like reading, writing and math. But it should also nourish and build the skills in problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking that young people need for work, to start a business and to engage productively in their communities.

Above all, it should include a laser focus on building digital skills. With sixty-five percent of primary school children who will be doing jobs that don’t even exist today, preparing children and young people for the technology of the future is absolutely critical.

This is a top priority of the Generation Unlimited partnership, to help prepare a generation of young people for the world of work, by bringing partners, ideas and funding from the public and private sectors to help us find solutions.

Image: UNICEF

World class digital learning

UNICEF is working with the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution, and through the Generation Unlimited to bring partners together to reimagine education for a generation of children and young people.

The goal is ambitious. By 2030, we want all 3.5 billion children and young people to have access to world-class digital learning. This includes quality content, connecting every school to the internet, making sure that the costs are affordable, and improving access to learning tools and devices that young learners need.

How can you help in this effort?

Support scaling-up world-class digital learning solutions. The technology now exists to personalize learning so that children and young people can build the skills they need, when they want to, and wherever they are. Help us find private sector partners who can help scale-up personalized, adaptable, high-quality digital learning tools and devices, including classrooms, curriculum, textbooks and games that can reach every child and young person, no matter where they live.

Join the GIGA initiative to connect every school, child and young person to the internet. Follow the lead of partners like Ericsson to map the connectivity of every school, and help us gather government and private financing in every community to ensure that every school and every child is connected.

Help us reduce the cost of accessing learning content through mobile phones. We need partnerships with more mobile network operators who can provide “zero rated” learning content to the poorest communities.

And finally, engage with young people themselves. Find out what tools would work for them, and what kind of learning they need to build the futures they want to see.