Big-name activist throws weight behind WEF internet initiative

Education activist and co-founder of the academic support non-profit Olico, Andrew Barrett has thrown his weight behind an initiative from the World Economic Forum’s global shpers programme to bring internet access to all in Africa.

Called #internet4all, the campaign was announced on Thursday and will officially launch at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 that takes place in Kigali, Rwanda, from 11 to 13 May.

The campaign follows a call from Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa and Member of the Executive Committee for the World Economic Forum, for the internet to become a basic right in Africa. “Technology has already helped to bring about vast improvements in the way the region [Africa] governs, feeds, lives, educates, trades and interacts with itself,” said Kanza, the former personal assistant and economic advisor to Jakaya Kikwete, the fourth President of Tanzania.

“We believe that, in the 21st century, this essential infrastructure should be available to everybody,” Kanza says, adding: “All Africans want is the chance to create for themselves the future that they deserve.”

The desire to bring ubiquitous internet connectivity to Africa isn’t just about bringing people online for the sake of it. The internet presents a massive opportunity to change the face of education on the continent.

Take South Africa for instance. There it is estimated that of the 24 000 government-funded schools in South Africa, some 20,000 are dysfunctional, with many learners leaving school functionally illiterate and innumerate. The gap in education is directly related to the poverty gap, with learners in wealthy areas performing at par, while those in the poorer areas fall behind virtually from the start.

And that’s where people like Barrett, working for organisations like Olico, come in.

Started in 1993, Olico is a non-profit which builds education solutions and co-operative businesses as it looks to build an inclusive, just and humane society without poverty.

Barrett believes that an open source education solution — like Olico’s — could make a very real difference to this country’s unemployment crisis, if internet access wasn’t an inhibitor. “Olico has 240 maths lessons available on free to view video, and 1 400 questions on these videos online. These are interactive so learners can test their knowledge and get individualised feedback.”

Globally, free online learning solutions like the Khan Academy have proved revolutionary in terms of changing learner outcomes. “These learning systems prepare students well for solid tertiary education as well as future employment or self employment prospects.”

Internet access is critical to Olico’s mission to try and help students bridge the gaps they have because of South Africa’s dysfunctional education system. The education nonprofit offers a range of support services that includes numeracy and literacy skills for children, and computer literacy for adults; and helps to create worker-owned co-operatives to foster sustainable local job creation. But the big push is getting SA’s youth to matriculate with the kind of results that will get them into tertiary education.

“A lack of access to the internet creates additional barriers to educational growth and to potential development, there is no question about that,” says Barrett, who advocates that internet access in Africa should be a basic right. “The internet is an important enabler for all kinds of factors including education and academic development, but also for growing one’s awareness of your position as a global citizen.”

“Access to freely and readily available information is important to your place in the world, as well as to deciding what you want to do in the future. As more and more high quality open source material becomes available, access to the internet will be the great leveller in many ways,” he explains.



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