I think it is safe to say that most of us only panic about not having internet access when the end of the month rolls around and our data package moves close to the edge of depletion on our mobile phone. This, my friends, can without a doubt be categorized as a blatant example of a #FirstWorldProblem. When we have the luxury of internet access at the tip of our fingers every single day, it is easy to forget that only four years ago, only 15% of people on the entire African continent had access to the World Wide Web.
Fast forward to 2016, and the African continent still only makes up 9.3% of the total number of internet users in the world. For countries that have the infrastructure in place, and where internet is easily accessible to the ordinary individual, it just remains feasible to keep up to speed with constant developments in the digital and mobile world. This privileged access to technology also extends to include education, where we’ve seen many institutions adopt a more modern approach, allowing digital technologies to aid in all aspects of the learning journey, and include all stakeholders, parents, teachers and children in the process.
William Mitchell said it perfectly: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”.
This statement perfectly illustrates how strong the connection between education and the digital world is, and how important it is that we merge the two wherever possible. For those in the developed world, this increasing connection is not a concern, but a welcome advancement in the education journey for current and future generations.
However, for Africa as a whole, while the digital age continues to move forward without reprieve in the developed world, technological growth often lags and stalls due to delays and many other factors. This has a direct impact on education, raising serious warning signs and highlighting the need for corporations with the means to help, to do so. Though access to the internet should not be considered a basic right, but rather as a luxury, access to education should absolutely and unequivocally be regarded as a basic human right. Digital technologies need to come forward to meet education and work to give children who would not otherwise have access to an education, just that.
Cue the Vodafone Foundation and Vodafone Instant Schools for Africa.
In 2013, UNESCO research found that out of the 59 million children (aged 6-11) that were out of school, 30 million of them lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. For the first roll-out of the Instant Schools Initiative, the Vodafone Foundation and Vodafone Will worked to provide millions of children in the DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa, with free access to online learning materials.
This was all closely monitored to fall in line with the findings of Learning Equality, a non-profit provider of learning technologies and follows guidelines who research what is suitable and manageable in the African environment where technology is not as advanced as the rest of the world.
Going into more depth, Learning Equality ensures that content can be delivered efficiently; so videos are optimised to be low bit rate, webpages are configured to work over low-bandwidth data, and education modules can be stored easily on mobile devices. They also work to ensure that where internet access is unachievable, local area networks are set up so that individuals (staff, pupils and parents) can easily access the resources and learning materials needed in a reliable and efficient manner. Furthermore, Learning Equality and the Vodafone Foundation cooperate with other mobile providers to make sure their initiative reaches as many children as possible.
The Instant Schools for Africa programme will help give children the chance at a better life by providing low-cost learning materials, and up to date teachings tailored to the culture and language of each specific area it operates in. This initiative is an advancement on the Instant Classroom Initiative that was launched by the Vodafone Foundation in connection with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR), where the idea was to provide “an education in box” – a mobile box containing tablets given to teachers and pupils provided the means to learn remotely in areas where electricity and internet access were unavailable.
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To top this all off, Vodafone is not the only corporation to facilitate intellectual growth in Africa’s youth. As the digital age advances, Google has partnered with Livity Africa to provide free digital training camps in Sub-Saharan Africa. The idea behind this is to equip youths with the skills to work online, set up a new business and explore entrepreneurial opportunities that they would not have access to previously.
So, with internet adoption growing in Africa (slowly but surely), it is absolutely vital that the youth of Africa be given access to learning tools and technologies that will enable them to learn the digital skill necessary to succeed in this ever-developing mobile and digital age. This has the power to transform the course of millions of children’s lives.