Covid-19: Can Telecoms Collaborate with Government to Lift Online Learning?


Rarzack Olaegbe

For instance, AT & T has partnered participating K-12 schools and colleges to give free wireless data for 60 days, via school-issued 4G LTE tablets and hotspot devices. Most households who don’t have broadband internet service are within reach of these cellular signals.


The COVID-19 health crisis does not respect anyone. Or any sector of the economy. It is still raging. Nobody is spared. Some businesses have gone under. Others are on the verge of the precipice. Some employees are working remotely.

Others have lost their jobs. Some schools are shut in Africa, Asia and Europe. Emerging evidence from some of Europe’s highest-income countries indicate that the pandemic is giving rise to learning losses and increase in inequality.

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Robin Donnelly, Harry Patrinos et al made valid statements in their recommendations. Writing on the impact of Covid-19 on education, recommendations and opportunities for Ukraine, the authors advised that to reduce and reverse the long-term negative effects, Ukraine and other less-affluent lower middle income countries like Nigeria, which are likely to be even harder hit, need to implement a learning recovery programme. This would protect educational budgets. And prepare for future shocks by building back better.

May be the Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, took his cue from this recommendation when he announced the roll out of metropolitan fibre optics across public schools. The plan will “aid learning through high-speed internet connectivity”. He said this while commissioning blocks of classrooms in four schools recently.

Sanwo-Olu said the broadband internet infrastructure would be completed and commissioned this year. It would be activated in 100 selected schools for the pilot scheme. He reiterated his commitment towards revitalising the education sector by providing a conducive environment for teaching and learning across the schools within the state. This is a commendable step from the governor.

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Meanwhile at least 124,000 schools in America have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, schools are pivoting to online education. Reports have it that about 3 million students do not have access to the internet at home due to high costs and gaps in availability. School districts and some of the best internet providers are coming together to help connect students to their virtual classrooms.

During this crisis, internet providers are doing something unprecedented. They are offering free or discounted internet options for students and low-income households. For instance, AT&T has partnered participating K-12 schools and colleges to give free wireless data for 60 days, via school-issued 4G LTE tablets and hotspot devices. Most households who don’t have broadband internet service are within reach of these cellular signals.

AT&T has a low-income internet programme called Access from AT&T. New participants who qualify will receive two free months of service. Those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch (NSLP) or Head Start programs or who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are eligible. AT&T is available in 21 states

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In addition, for university students, Xfinity is offering new customers a prepaid Visa gift card with $150. This covers roughly two months of service. The deal comes with free self-installation and no upfront fees. The gift card arrives a few weeks after you sign up and install, so you may need to pay for those two months upfront and will then be reimbursed. To participate, a student needs to verify his identity by uploading some relevant documents.

Xfinity is offering two free months of internet service for those who qualify for its Internet Essentials package. It’s a limited-income program for people who are eligible for public assistance like Medicaid, SSI, the NSLP, housing assistance, and others. Speeds will be also increased to 25 Mbps for anyone who has the Internet Essentials package.

Xfinity is the largest cable internet provider with a presence in 39 states. Its top serviced areas are Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and San Jose.  On the other hand, Spectrum is offering one of the best deals. Free broadband and Wi-Fi (up to 100 Mbps) for 60 days to households with K-12 or college students who don’t currently have Spectrum service. Installation and prepayment fees are waived. Only new customers are eligible. The deal is applied as a credit for the first two months of service. Spectrum is available in 41 states.

Both Optimum and Suddenlink, under the same parent company, are offering new customers’ free internet for 60 days. Households with students who don’t have home internet service are eligible for the Altice Advantage 30 Mbps broadband solution.  Optimum is available in four states. Suddenlink services 20 states, mostly in the South.

Likewise, Cox is offering a discounted starter package for $20 per month and 50 Mbps. Its internet service starter package is typically $30 for 10 Mbps, so that’s a pretty significant upgrade. The company also has a low-income internet programme, Connect2Compete. It is offering two months free and increasing speeds to 50 Mbps. It is available in 19 states.

Without being left out, Google is working with the local government to set up 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in rural households that will be free for three months. It is also donating 4,000 Chromebooks to students. Many schools are doing what they can to support online education for their students. Some districts are deploying Wi-Fi to park in different neighbourhoods during the day to offer internet access to students in the area. Some school districts are partnering with cell phone providers to give students LTE-enabled tablets or laptops and mobile hotspots. Students seeking internet access should check with their district, university, and local internet provider for resources available to them.

Back home, the telecommunications giants, MTN, Airtel, 9mobile and Glo can collaborate with the Lagos State government to boost online learning in public schools. This will connect with MTN’s e-libraries, online journals and other digital learning and research materials. Already MTN has filled the gap where physical books are lacking. This initiative can be tied into Lagos state’s government initiative. That way, more learners in public schools can access online education without hindrance.

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Similarly, Airtel can extend its online learning programme to the state government. Airtel’s heavily subsidised data and mobile internet initiative for all Nigerian schools and students would work perfectly with Mr Sanwo-Olu’s plan. It would increase internet penetration. Reduce data cost. Make it possible for millions of indigent students to learn without tears.

While providing free access to lecturers and students of tertiary institutions, 9mobile can connect with the state government and elevate the reach of its own project. This can be achieved if the mobile company removes the cap on its mobile data costs and brings public schools into the basket. To continue to provide innovative options for the academic community, 9mobile could leverage its reach and technology to “support very important segments of the society like students and academia.”

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If these telecoms giants and other technology companies collaborate with the state’s internet infrastructural programme, the adverse effect of the largest disruption of education systems in history – which “affects nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents” according to the United Nations policy brief of 2020 – would be cushioned.

The telecom operators and the state government would have prevented a learning crisis. More students would be engaged. Teachers would be active. Closure of schools would not have a negative impact on the students and teachers. Together, the parties would have prevented “future shocks by building back better”. Thus the education sector would have escaped from the adverse effects of Covid-19 pandemic.

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