Bridging the digital divide

Education facilities across the globe are experiencing first-hand the numerous benefits technology has with regards to helping children develop an understanding and love for learning. While a number of schools in urban South Africa have incorporated the latest technology in the classroom, for schools in rural areas being part of the digital generation is marred with challenges. As a result, the majority of rural schools are left behind, unable to cross the digital divide, resulting in thousands of children not having the opportunity to experience enhanced learning.

 

There are many ways to help empower communities but the key to empowerment is to uplift the youth. What better way to do so than to provide good quality, cost effective education by giving the youth access to new technologies; technologies that are fun, educational, radical and that have the ability to change the way children learn.

 

MIB Technology – the first distributor of the LG U-series which offers features for educators and students who use computers for word processing, playing videos, internet access, e-mail and other simple applications in Africa – has developed a Tablet pc, now installed in 200 ICT labs in various schools. There is a great need for the development of more energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies and a dedication to the country’s national e-learning strategy, the development of WIFI systems for schools and the provision of other IT solutions. The fact that MIB Technology was awarded the Digital Content Awards in 2011 shows that there is already a focus on such green technologies in the market.

 

Schools should not be considered a dumping ground for old technologies. The user proficiency in schools is what will drive the productivity and economy of the future. Therefore, they should be provided with cutting edge hardware, software, internet and web-based technology and there should be a commitment to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers. 

 

While a lot has been done for urban schools over the last 16 years, the challenge is now to roll similar projects out in rural schools. The Department of Education has been working in partnership with MIB Technology in order to achieve such roll-out. Bandwidth is another large problem in schools across South Africa, especially those situated in rural areas. Schools are faced with three major challenges: the cost of bandwidth, connectivity to deep rural schools and volatility resulting in a lack of speed and reliability. 

 

A passion for the children attending rural schools sparked the idea to create the Train Your Brain project, a partnership between MIB Technology and Government. The aim of this project is to implement an e-learning platform, enabling rural schools to gain access to information which was previously only available to urban schools. While the project is important to all communities, it is critical to those who are disadvantaged as they can now have access to the vital knowledge required to address the vast inequalities in education. The project, with its core goal of bridging the digital divide and providing content and educational resources at a fraction of the normal cost, includes training of individuals to maintain implementation and running of the programmes. In line with the national development plan (NDP), it is hoped that, together, technology and Train Your Brain will assist in reducing poverty and inequality.

 

Linked to Train Your Brain is the Educational Digital Resource Library, a portal that gives learners all the relevant content required from various providers. What makes the project unique is the technology mechanism, which reduces delivery costs of content; different content providers are all put into one delivery vehicle resulting in the end user having all information required available in one repository. Learners therefore have a vast array of educational material at their disposal, which is sure to increase their ability to understand all subject matter. In addition, teachers are trained on how to use the portal and can plan their lessons accordingly.

 

There are some challenges in terms of the rollout of the project, such as funding. However, despite the challenges, the team involved remains passionate about conquering this uncharted territory and is not only focusing on rural schools within South Africa, but has taken the vision across the borders into East and West Africa as well. The project is set to be rolled out early in 2013, while 2012 will be used to establish Proof of Concepts and implement pilot studies to prove the validity of the Train Your Brain concept and further establish the key to the project, being low cost and low bandwidth utilisation.

 

At present, there are case studies available which prove that an ICT-culture can become the base for new rural empowerment. Train Your Brain emanated from this vision, having been deploying refurbished computers in mainly rural environments for the last 10 years. Through a combination of improved digital access, locally developed patents as well as a renewed focus by the South African Government on skills development and sustainable socio-economic practice, it has become possible to refocus strategies to establish and fund collaborative systems of operational activities. These systems can then be used to facilitate the creation of skills villages from which self-sustainable households can stem. 

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