UNICEF has entered into a partnership with Airtel Africa to provide children with access to remote learning and enable access to cash assistance for their families via mobile cash transfers amid the coronavirus pandemic, the telecom company said on Wednesday.
Airtel Africa will 'zero-rate' select websites hosting educational content, which will provide children with remote access to digital content at no cost.
Under this pact, UNICEF and Airtel Africa will use mobile technology to benefit an estimated 133 million children currently affected by school closures in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic, Airtel Africa said in a statement.
"UNICEF announced a new partnership with Airtel Africa aimed at providing children with access to remote learning and enable access to cash assistance for their families via mobile cash transfers," it said.
The adverse effects of school closures on children's learning are well-documented, and experts warn that gains made in increasing access to learning in the previous decade are at risk of being lost, or even reversed completely.
For poor households, 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," the statement pointed out.
The partnership will also provide UNICEF with a means to facilitate vital cash assistance to alleviate financial barriers for vulnerable families across the region, including many affected by the growing socio-economic hardships resulting from suspension of income earning activities, in the wake of the pandemic.
This will help ensure families have additional resources to cope with the ongoing health and economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.
"COVID-19 is affecting access to information and education at an unprecedented scale," Fayaz King, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director for Field Results and Innovation, said adding that UNICEF is partnering with Airtel Africa to deliver better outcomes for children and families affected by widespread closures.
The partnership aims to benefit children and families in 13 nations in sub-Saharan Africa. These include Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Airtel Africa Chief Executive Officer Raghunath Mandava said, "Some effective ways to cushion families from the effects of this crisis is through providing free Internet access to selected educational websites to help children keep up with their learning during the school closures and direct cash transfer programmes to reduce physical presence requirements for cash in hand exchanges.