Offering Access To Online Education—Even Without The Internet
Proponents of online education have touted its potential to transform the lives of people all over the globe. But what about the 65 percent of the world’s population that isn’t online? A group of self-described “tinkerers” and “hacker-ninjas” aims to close that gap, according to a statement by UC-San Diego:
A team of volunteers led by UC San Diego cognitive science doctoral candidate Jamie Alexandre has developed a free web app they call ‘KA Lite’ [“KA’ stands for Khan Academy, the popular online instruction site). The app bridges the digital divide by making available offline the online videos and exercises of the popular Khan Academy. The team also has a vision of expanding to include other educational content that’s freely available on the Internet commons: Project Gutenberg, perhaps, or Wikipedia.
The KA Lite project began in the summer of 2012 when Alexandre was interning as a software developer at the Khan Academy, whose mission is to provide ‘a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.’ The only hitch in that statement, Alexandre realized, was that not everyone everywhere has access to the Internet. In fact, only about 35 percent of the world does.
‘The Internet will get to everyone eventually. Estimates range around 10 years,’ Alexandre says. ‘But that’s not soon enough from my point of view. That’s a whole generation of potential students left behind.’
Alexandre has partnered with Open Learning Exchange, or OLE, a nonprofit educational organization is now field-testing KA Lite with 20 schools and 5,000 elementary-school students in Ghana.
An exciting development the team didn’t originally anticipate is the amount of interest they have gotten from prison systems, both abroad and in the United States. ‘Many medium-security prisons are equipped with computer labs and classrooms,’ Alexandre explains on his blog, ‘but for security reasons detainees are not permitted access to the Internet.’ Having offline educational content available for prisoners’ personal and professional development, he says, could aid in the important goal of rehabilitation.
The team imagines KA Lite being useful in numerous scenarios. They can see it being downloaded at a school that has Internet connectivity and then being distributed locally to students who don’t have connections at home. They can see it being downloaded at an urban core in the developing world and then carried by van, donkey or foot (aka ‘the sneakernet’) on USB sticks to more remote and rural areas.
They can also see it being used in classrooms in the U.S. that don’t have the luxury of high-speed connections. (It takes a lot of bandwidth for a class of 30 to all stream videos at once.) And for that reason, they see KA Lite being useful for a while into the future, because even if the Internet does eventually become ubiquitous, it won’t necessarily be fast.”