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Solar-powered digital libraries to educate far corners of the world

Photo Credit: SolarSPELL

The Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia was recently visited by Dr Laura Hosman, who discussed her research on the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in developing countries.

She discussed ICT in terms of its potential effects on socio-cultural factors, human development, and economic growth during a lecture at UNSW called, “On the brink of the internet”.

SolarSPELL

As reported, the Solar Powered Educational Learning Library (SolarSPELL) is designed to deliver curated content to remote, unconnected or off-grid regions.

This portable solar-powered digital library broadcasts over a Wi-Fi hotspot, transforming access to educational opportunities in the most resource-constrained conditions.

It bypasses the infrastructural requirements and costs associated with providing both electricity and Internet connectivity.

Through the SolarSPELL initiative, teachers, health care providers and Peace Corp volunteers are trained in its use to help others develop the relevant Internet-ready skillset.

Following her recent lecture, a PLuS Alliance Communications Officer asked about her work to bring the internet to the far corners of the globe.

The PLuS Alliance is a collaboration involving Arizona State University, King’s College London (KCL) and the UNSW Sydney to solve global challenges around health, social justice, sustainability, technology and innovation.

The History

Although the first SolarSPELL went to the field in 2015, the idea for an offline, rugged, solar-powered digital library developed and evolved from lessons gained from being out in the field and seeing what the true challenges were for teachers and students, from about 2010-2015.

The biggest revelation during the development phase was how it takes a village to develop a library.

The technology and hardware must work. Plus, a library needs to have content that is useful, relevant, and interesting for the users.

Additionally, there is always room for improvement on every aspect of the library, including the hardware, software, content, training given to new library users, and impact evaluation.

The Future

Plans for SolarSPELL include continuous expansion around the world. There are three main areas of emphasis over the next few years. These are:

  1. Launching SolarSPELL Health, which is a health-focused version of the library that can be used by health practitioners in offline locations.
  2. Launching SolarSPELL in refugee camps and settlements in East Africa, with a goal of introducing it in refugee situations around the world.
  3. To continue working with US Peace Corps volunteers and expanding work with the Peace Corps around the world.

The initiative will play are role in addressing global health issues as SolarSPELL Health will be the first standalone health-focused library initially in South Sudan.

There, a library will be created to be used by educational institutions, meeting their curricular needs.

Textbooks, medical guidelines, and other learning materials are extremely limited, so having access to these materials freely available on one’s smartphone can be a game-changer.

In addition to developing a library for teaching institutions, an animated video series is being created.

It conveys messages about basic health topics that have nearly universal applicability available in the local languages.

Having access to information like this, offline, has the potential to address the health information needs of local clinicians around the world, and bring potentially lifesaving knowledge to remote, low-resource locations.

Working with those at UNSW and KCL will hopefully expand the reach of SolarSPELL. There are so many people around the world who still lack access to information.

Education is at the heart of improving people’s quality of life. When people gain access to quality, relevant, useful information, they can gain the power to define their own development goals and achieve them.

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