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Stuffing the Internet in a box and shipping it to schools in Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

there are multiple options for moving forwardOver the past decade or so, increasing numbers of groups have been working on answers to variations of the following question:

How can the wealth of educational resources on the Internet be brought to the majority of African schools that are today 'un-connected'?

While the Internet has not wrought the similar types of profound, broad societal changes in Africa that it has in other parts of the world, the connectivity landscape in Africa is in fact changing very quickly in many places (for the better!), with (for example) macro-level announcements about progress with new fibre optic cables coming on what seems like a weekly basis.

(For those who like such things, here's a great map to track technical progress in this area.  For acronym fans, here are links to announcements about some of the major backbone connectivity initiatives in Africa: Glo,  RCIPEASSyTEAMS, Seacom and LION2.) 

Earlier this year the total number of mobile phone subscribers in Africa (over 300 million) passed the total in North America and, while access to the Internet via mobile phones is still low across the continent, it is growing quickly.  In Nigeria, for example, published reports now have mobile phones as the primary access device to the Internet in Africa's most populous country.  There is even increasing talk (and some action) of connecting African educational institutions to the 'cloud' in various ways. 

That said, it also undeniable that improvements in connectivity are not coming fast enough, or at a high enough speed or quality, or cheaply enough, for all citizens and schools, especially outside major population centers -- and won't any time in the near future.

A (digital) library ... in your pocket?

Michael Trucano's picture

are paper-bound books destined to go the way of the card catalogue? (image attribution at bottom of this blog posting)

Amazon, the company behind the Kindle, perhaps the world's most famous e-reader, recently announced an international version of its digital book reading device that will allow users to connect via 3G to download content in over 100 countries.   The early success of the Kindle, together with products like the Sony Reader, and the excitement over recently announced products like the Nook and Plastic Logic e-reading devices (Wikipedia has a nice list of these things), portends profound changes to the way we consume and distribute reading materials going forward.  The excellent (and highly recommended) Mobile Libraries blog explores what all of this might mean for one of most venerable of all information gathering, curation and dissemination institutions: the library. While Mobile Libraries documents issues related to how e-books and the like may transform the roles of the library in the industrialized countries of Europe, North America and Asia, there is no clear equivalent information resource highlighting what such advances might mean for developing countries.  But, in various ways, many people and projects are hard at work exploring such issues.