International Day of the Girl: The Vital Role of Satellite Connectivity in Bridging the Gender Education Gap

Debbie Mavis, Group HR Director at Avanti Communications

Today, on October 11th, the world commemorates International Day of the Girl, a day dedicated to recognising the unique challenges young women face worldwide and the imperative to empower them to reach their full potential. 

In the spirit of this momentous occasion, Space in Africa had the privilege of engaging in a profound conversation with Debbie Mavis, Director at Avanti Communications. Debbie spoke at length about the urgent need to prioritise and address the issues young women face in their educational journeys and beyond. Debbie also delved into the remarkable initiatives that Avanti Communications is undertaking to make substantial strides in closing the gender gap in education in Africa.

Can you tell us about the critical issues facing young women worldwide regarding education and reaching their full potential?

One of the most critical issues facing young women worldwide is the gender disparity in education. In Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, only eight (8) girls for every ten (10) boys are enrolled in secondary education, and this shocking statistic has hardly changed since 1999. In addition, sociocultural norms, early marriage, and economic constraints often further limit girls’ access to quality education. 

What role does education play in reducing poverty and contributing to economic growth?

Education plays a vital role in reducing poverty and contributing to economic growth. An educated population, including women and girls, can earn higher incomes, which, in turn, supports economic development and reduces poverty. 

In fact, a World Bank report found that an extra year of schooling for girls results in a 10-20% increase in their future income. This added income is often invested in the family’s well-being, including better nutrition, healthcare, and housing, and has the potential to break the poverty cycle.

How can the telecoms sector collaborate to address the gender gap in education, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Collaboration in the telecoms sector can help close Africa’s education gender gap. By working together, we can enrich the lives of many young girls worldwide and improve access to quality education. Our partnership with the Global Partnership for Education focuses on using connectivity to break down barriers to girls’ education. We drive awareness and behaviour changes through social marketing, targeting issues like social norms that keep girls from school, and work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.

How does your Avanti Communications support education in Africa?

We provide high-speed satellite connectivity, ICT devices, and educational content to African schools and villages. We have connected over 1,000 African villages and schools, providing services in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Angola, Côte d’ivoire, Cameroon, Niger and South Sudan. Millions of lives across Africa have been impacted. Similarly, over the next five (5) years, our ambition is to connect 10,000 sites, enabling even more communities to enjoy a connected life.

Can you share an example of a successful project that highlights the impact of your efforts?

Public-private partnerships play a crucial role in the work we do in education and where we see the most impact. Our iMlango project, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, reached 245 primary and secondary schools in Kenya and improved the learning outcomes of around 180,000 marginalised children; 90,000 are marginalised girls. This success is attributed to our satellite technology, laptops, computers, ICT devices, and educational content.

The success of this project is all through a combination of our satellite technology, laptops, computers and ICT devices and educational content. As well as students, the project also helped to increase the capability and confidence of more than 5,000 teachers. This is a testament to connectivity’s powerful impact on individuals and communities.

How does your organisation support education during times of crisis and emergencies?

As part of our RESILIENCE service, we work closely with governments and private sector partnerships to offer secondary satellite links to support critical enterprise applications in the event of primary network failures. We deploy diverse routing from base stations to enable secure access to vital information in the wake of national emergencies and natural disasters. This provides an automatic switch to a satellite link to enable fibre-like throughput without the dependence on terrestrial networks to support enterprise and communication applications, meaning that vital education resources are still available during periods of crisis. 

We already work in close partnership with our customers in Niger, Kenya and Nigeria to deliver RESILIENCE, and are in the process of using this robust connectivity solution in South Africa to provide infrastructure so that connectivity can be maintained during critical periods. 

What is the most significant benefit of bridging the digital divide for girls in education?

The most significant benefit of bridging the digital divide for girls in education is its power to change millions of lives. It’s about making access to quality education a reality, essential in today’s rapidly changing world. 

Furthermore, educating young girls is crucial because it significantly impacts their income-earning potential, their ability to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives, and their capacity to build better futures for themselves and their families. We’ve seen real-life examples where educated girls become community leaders, contributing to social and economic development.