14 December 2012

South African learners lobby for free mobile access to online encyclopedia

Learners from Sinenjongo High School, Joe Slovo Park, Cape Town have sent a letter to South Africa's four network operators asking them to provide their customers with free mobile access to Wikipedia. They have also set up a Facebook page that contains the full text of their letter and more details about their campaign. [1]

Wikipedia is an online collaborative encyclopedia. It was created in 2001 and is one of the largest reference websites, containing over 22,000,000 articles in 285 languages. [1] Pieter Streicher, a volunteer computer studies teacher at Sinenjongo High School, says Wikipedia is an excellent resource for learners. However, the school's 25 computers are available to each learner for only an hour each week. Learners without computer access at home must walk or take public transport to the nearest library and queue to use computers, or visit pay-per-use internet cafes. [2]

Other mobile network providers in Africa already provide free access to Wikipedia through their phones. Earlier this year, the Orange telecommunications group struck an agreement with countries including Kenya, Tunisia, Uganda, Niger, and Ivory Coast, to provide their customers with free, unlimited access to Wikipedia through their mobile browsers. [3]

Isla Haddow-Flood, Project Manager of WikiAfrica, said: "In a country such as South Africa with high cellphone penetration and mobile internet use, this open content initiative is a key stepping stone to improving education via equal access to information. According to latest stats from research house World Wide Worx, about 8 million South Africans access the internet on their cellphones. Of these, 2.48 million have no access to computers at all. [...] With only 21% of South Africa's schools offering a library, our school children face the same problem."

"South Africa's operators are continental players; they can play a significant role in ensuring a brighter, better connected future for our children by providing them with access to the knowledge that they so desperately need." [2]

To read the letter the learners sent and to find out more about their campaign, visit their Facebook page.

[1] "Wikipedia: About" Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 6 December 2012.

[2] "South African learners lobby for free Wikipedia access." IT News Africa: Africa's Technology News Leader. 12 December 2012.

[3] "Kenya: Orange, Wikipedia Partnership Seeks to Enhance Access to Information and Knowledge" allAfrica.com. 10 December 2012.