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UNICEF, ITU claim 95% of West, Central African children without Internet

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU), are worried about the lack of access by children in West and Central Africa to the Internet,

The two bodies observed that in Eastern and Southern Africa, only 13 per cent of children and young people have Internet access at home, and in West and Central Africa access is even lower at five per cent. In the Middle East and North Africa only 25 per cent of the youth have home Internet.

UNICEF and the ITU in a report titled: “How Many Children and Youth Have Internet Access at Home?” found that overall, two thirds of the world’s school-age children – or 1.3 billion children aged three to 17 years old – do not have an Internet connection in their homes.

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There is also a similar lack of access among young people aged 15-24 years old, with 759 million or 63 per cent unconnected at home.
Using the latest available household survey data, the report finds significant inequities between countries, regions, wealth groups and urban-rural settings. Differences are starker yet between rich and poor countries, with only six per cent of children and young people in low-income countries having Internet access compared to 87 per cent in high-income countries.

Analyzing the report, connectingafrica.com, said the impact of wealth on Internet access is also visible at the regional level. In West and Central Africa, Internet access for the poorest populations is almost non-existent. In Eastern and Southern Africa, just three per cent of people aged 25 years or less from the poorest families have Internet access at home, compared to 40 per cent from the richest families.

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, noted that many children and young people without Internet at home is more than a digital gap – it is a digital canyon.

“Lack of connectivity doesn’t just limit children and young people’s ability to connect online. It prevents them from competing in the modern economy. It isolates them from the world. And in the event of school closures, such as those currently experienced by millions due to COVID-19, it causes them to lose out on education. Put bluntly: Lack of Internet access is costing the next generation their futures,” he stated.

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On what the report called ‘The COVID education crisis’, it pointed out that online learning remains increasingly important in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the globe and millions of children are unable to attend regular school.

At the height of nationwide lock-downs in 2020, up to 1.6 billion children were affected by school closures, what UNICEF calls “the largest mass disruption of education in modern history.”

“Yet, even before schools shuttered their doors, one in five school-age children (three to 17 years old) was out of school, and even children in schools were not necessarily learning, with 617 million children and adolescents worldwide failing to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics,” the report said.

Nearly a quarter of a billion students worldwide are still affected by COVID-19 school closures, forcing hundreds of millions of students to rely on virtual learning. The sad reality is that for those with no Internet access, education could be out of reach in 2021.

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Henrietta ForeITUUNICEF
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