There are a great many excellent educational resources on the internet – some have even been produced specifically for African and underprivileged kids. Unfortunately, the digital divide makes it very difficult for these resources to wind up in the hands of those who need them most. Content is great, and there is great content, but to be an effective supplement to education it also needs systems for distribution and management, which allow timely updates and feedback, and measurements of learner engagement with the materials. Most of all, it needs educators and support staff who know the content and can incorporate it into their teaching.
We’ve long wanted to use awarenet to help address this problem. From the first version we included features to allow learning materials to be collected, curated and distributed on awarenet. The latest version takes this further – teachers and technical staff can now use awarenet’s package management system to install the content which they need on their local awarenet instance, or build their own packages from sources on the web. Learners then have fast, local access to resources such as digital textbooks, video lessons, past exam papers, and can download them to their lab accounts or mobile devices. Since mobile awarenet nodes can create their own wireless network, no internet or other infrastructure is needed at the point of use – though a computer lab with mains electricity is preferable.
The default set of content packages we’d like to set up on all awarenet servers includes textbooks from Siyavula (English and Afrikaans), past exam papers provided by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education (multilinual) and video lessons on all subjects from Khan Academy (English) and the University of Cape Town (isiXhosa). We’re also looking into including collections from Project Gutenberg (multilingual), WikiHow, the Wikipedia Selection for Schools, Geogebra and many other sources.
Learners in many Eastern Cape schools have very restricted access to textbooks and teachers. We want to help provide the best available substitute – digital books and recorded instruction provided by world class educators, preferably in learner’s home languages. Where schools don’t have staff or funds for a working library we’d like to put one on every capable phone. Even in more developed countries schools can benefit from these, and need tools to manage these resources and track their use.
If you’re a teacher and know of free or open source materials which you think we should be including, please let us know in the comments.