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Challenging the digital divide: Rethinking the SDG Agenda to Ensure No One Is Left Behind

This blog is part of the blog series "Why this decade is more important than ever for education and the SDGs."

Written by Stacy Nyathi, Global Schools Project Officer

If you are reading this, it means you have access to the internet, and you are interested in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or would like to know more about them. However, according to the World Bank, less than 40% of the African population is connected to the Internet. This means the greater part of the African population does not have access to this critical tool, which makes reaching them through web-based technologies quite challenging. This brings us to the critical question that we must all ask ourselves. How do we reach them? How can we ensure everyone is educated about the SDGs? What are the principles to promote the 2030 Agenda in every community?

For those who may not be familiar with it, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a bold global Agenda that 193 member states of the United Nations set out to achieve in 2015. When the signatories follow through, and governments, the private sector, and individuals across the globe make deliberate efforts towards the Agenda 2030, the Goals appear surmountable. After all, the dawn of the internet has created a global village that connects everyone and, therefore, has been a critical element in spreading awareness about the SDGs, sharing progress stories from different countries across the globe. Something that has been aggravated by the recent pandemic.

Personally, when COVID-19 hit, I developed a new appreciation for the power of the Internet in unifying people across the globe for a common goal. Governments, civil society organizations, and private institutions were sharing information ranging from updates to safety recommendations. This information became widely available and was able to reach even the most remote communities that had limited access to the Internet. The #StayHomeStaySafe hashtag became a worldwide phrase.

The pandemic, albeit a dark era, also showed us the power of the Internet and how we can use it to foster unity of purpose, information sharing, and providing platforms for engagement for the benefit of our planet. To offer a case in point, the Global Schools Program (GSP) is a testament to the use of the Internet in pushing the sustainability Agenda in education. The Program has created a platform that connects teachers from all over the world and provides them with skills and resources to enable them to streamline SDGs in their curriculums, network, and exchange notes.

So as we can see, a change is possible, but how exactly? In this article, through my experiences, I will address some of the simple strategies change agents can employ to amplify the noble 2030 Agenda and ensure no one is left behind.

Information Dissemination: Let’s Go Back To Basics!

I remember working as a youth activist in the Matobo district in Zimbabwe and organizing a clean-up campaign using online platforms for mobilization. It flopped terribly. We reflected as a team, and we realized our communication methods were excluding a significant number of youths who demonstrated a remarkable sense of urgency when they received the call to action. That was a turning point for us and our future projects and campaigns in the district.

It took us going to the communities, using word of mouth to spread the message. The next clean-up campaign was a huge success, with young people coming in their numbers to participate, and they would for several campaigns as long as they received the information in time.

I believe, in the same way, we need to leverage basic means of communication in order to cater to the 60% who are offline, according to the Statista 2022 survey. While efforts are being made to connect more people to the internet. This will ensure that we leave no one behind. This is a call to action for every change agent who has the privilege to access critical information via the internet to cascade it down to those who do not.

Sharing Is Caring

Literally, sharing is caring. It is caring about our environment, our world, and our future. Two of the five dimensions of the Agenda 2030 are “People” and “Partnership,” which demonstrates that we can do more as people when we collaborate. There are some of us who have access to information about the SDGs, the causes and effects, we need to share that information with those who have limited access. Primary school students are more adversely affected by limited access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the Internet. However, learners can also learn even outside the classroom. Sensitizing young learners about SDGs can also help contextualize some of the concepts they are being taught at school.

I believe we need to talk more about the SDGs, and make them “trend” offline as they do online. Often at times when we make small talk, we discuss the weather or how bad the rains are getting, but sometimes from those conversations, you can come out with useful information like where you can get raincoats on sale! We need to normalize discourses around Agenda 2030 in the same way we normalize other global events. In our own little circles of influence, we should push the sustainability discourse. It is important that we explain why more people, especially the youth, should care about what is happening to our world and be involved in mitigating the problems.

Taking Action Everywhere, With Everyone: Community Gatherings

Community gatherings remain one of the most effective ways of spreading awareness. They are great platforms for interacting, as people can exchange information and ideas in real time. These gatherings often discuss issues affecting the community and chart the way forward regarding possible solutions. It is critical that the SDGs cascade to the community level. When parents are aware, they can also be agents of change.

It's also paramount to engage local leadership of the communities to assist in raising awareness about the SDGs. These are key stakeholders who can mobilize and encourage community members about the essence of the Goals. Local leaders can inspire confidence and can translate the broader goals to the localized context. This also means that the SDGs are adequately implemented based on the priorities of the community, which can assist with a much more positive uptake.

Concluding Thoughts

I believe the above are some simple but effective measures we can implement even in individual capacities. While there are steps being taken to develop the African ICT infrastructure and improve internet access, we need to complement these efforts, being cognisant of the fact that we are halfway through the Agenda 2030 and the challenges we are up against need everyone’s effort.

As a project officer at Global Schools, I have witnessed the incredible work being done by Advocates from across the globe. Some download workplans, print them out, and implement the activities at schools in remote communities, showing that when there's a will, there's a way. However, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is not a mandate for teachers alone. The Internet has a wealth of information about SDGs, and if you have access, you can educate yourself and educate the next person creating a global movement.

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1 Comment

Great article. The ball is in our court!

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