What results when two global powerhouses join forces to increase access to education? A pathway to success for children, young people and teachers, and a brighter future for all.
Over five years — and counting — of strategic partnership, UNICEF and Microsoft have increased access to education for millions of children through the Learning Passport. The global digital platform, developed by UNICEF and powered by Microsoft, is a digital learning solution unlike any other and exemplifies the power of public–private partnerships in helping to address the global learning crisis and build a sustainable future for all.
Today, the Learning Passport is reaching over 3 million children and young people in 28 countries and, as Mac Glovinsky, Learning Passport Global Program Chief, UNICEF, observes, “We’re just getting started.”
Bridging the digital divide
The Learning Passport is not just a digital education platform but a comprehensive program that brings together world-class technology, educational content and resources, and expertise to drive learning outcomes, improve digital readiness, retain students and more. The platform is available online, offline and on mobile devices so learners can continue their education from anywhere, at any time.
An estimated 1.3 billion children globally don’t have access to the internet. What sets the Learning Passport apart from other digital-learning solutions is the ability for learners to access high-quality education and learning resources including formal curricula, from almost any device, from anywhere at any time — online and offline.
Children are able to use the platform in offline situations, where no internet connection is available, and pick up where they left off once they have a connection. In offering a digital learning experience that doesn't rely on the internet, the Learning Passport represents an innovative approach to bridging the “digital divide,” which precludes half of the world’s population from benefiting from digital advances due to a lack of internet connectivity.
Meeting the moment with flexibility, adaptability and scalability
Microsoft technology is at the core of the Learning Passport. “Education is a big focus for Microsoft,” says Justin Spelhaug, Microsoft’s Global Vice President and Head of Tech for Social Impact. “Our strategy at Microsoft was to look at how can we create a capability and a partnership to reach those that we’re not reaching today."
Together, UNICEF and Microsoft studied how technology could help ensure children and young people on the move or living in emergency settings could continue to learn. Then Microsoft adapted an existing product designed to work in low bandwidth, resource-constrained environments on virtually any learning device to launch the Learning Passport.
UNICEF and Microsoft: The Transforming Education Summit
Flexibility and adaptability are the Learning Passport’s greatest assets, allowing locally based in-country teams to customize educational resources for language and cultural contexts as well as learners' needs. Originally conceived by UNICEF and Microsoft as an education solution aimed at helping millions of displaced and refugee children worldwide, the Learning Passport proved it could quickly accommodate other learning contexts after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. School closure and lockdowns suddenly left millions of additional students unable to continue their educations. Recognizing the urgent need and knowing the program’s potential, UNICEF and Microsoft worked relentlessly to extend the Learning Passport’s reach from three planned pilots to ten countries in 2020 alone.
Prioritizing equitable access to education
The fifth UN International Day of Education issues an urgent call to all governments and partners that have made commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to rank education high among their actions and investments. Indeed, SDG 4, which centers on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all, may well function as the linchpin to achieving all 17 interdependent SDGs. With the theme “to invest in people, prioritize education,” the International Day of Education builds on the momentum generated during the UN Transforming Education Summit (TES) in late 2022.
Bringing emerging technology to children who have lacked such tools broadens equitable access to education. The global pandemic exacerbated an already dire crisis in quality education and learning outcomes. As education systems worldwide continue to buckle under the weight of compounding challenges that face communities and impact learning — COVID-19, environmental disasters, humanitarian crises — children are falling behind. Hundreds of millions of students who attend school are not acquiring fundamental reading and math skills. Nearly two-thirds of 10-year-olds worldwide cannot read or understand a simple story, consigning them to experience a “learning poverty” that is difficult to overcome. UNICEF has set an ambitious target to cut the rate of learning poverty in half by 2030.
Innovative public-private partnerships, like that between UNICEF and Microsoft, demonstrate how public and private sector collaboration can deliver solutions at scale that have the potential to change the lives of millions of children and young people. The Learning Passport continues to address critical barriers and provide equitable access to ensure that children and young people can learn and develop the skills needed to prepare them for future vocational and educational advancement.
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Top photo: Learners at Oasis Primary School in Hartcliffe, Harare, Zimbabwe, use the Learning Passport, a digital library of teaching and learning resources founded by UNICEF, Microsoft and the University of Cambridge to provide continued, quality education opportunities for millions of children and adolescents around the world. © UNICEF/UN0410299/Tinago