For centuries libraries have functioned as centers of knowledge and learning. Today, with information and communication technology (ICT) developments and ever-growing Internet access, people are turning to e-libraries as the next literacy-promotion frontier.
In partnership, Vodacom, Huawei Technologies, the Department of Basic Education and the Nelson Mandela Foundation have created an e-libraries program that will span 61 Vodacom ICT resource centers across South Africa.
This program will provide 400 tablets, courtesy of Huawei Technologies, loaded with content spanning a variety of subjects, including business and entrepreneurship, African literature and history, in addition to fictional e-books. The vast array of reading material will be available in all 11 official languages of South Africa, ensuring unbiased access.
Each resource center will be equipped with at least six tablets preloaded with e-book content that are also Web-accessible, enabling users to download materials from the Internet. Vodacom promises to supply Wi-Fi to students and members of the communities serviced by the e-library tablets.
The e-libraries initiative offers an efficient means of keeping learning materials up-to-date, as Vodacom’s Mthobeli Thengimfene explained: “We are able to continuously update the content remotely without having to go to the centers and people will be able to download the books they are interested in.”
Although South Africa ranks higher than Sub-Saharan countries for simple literacy, some 5 million South African adults’ education does not even extend to completion of the seventh grade.
In order to ensure that South Africa’s population achieves true literacy, including the ability to comprehend the meaning of written material, supplemental instruction and resources become important factors. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these resources.
“Access to reading material is a major challenge in South Africa,” said Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Joosub. A large number of the country’s students are unable to utilize traditional library resources or reading material, Joosub went on to explain.
However, many South Africans have access to smartphones and the savvy to engage with ICT devices. The e-library program seeks to build on this affinity to engage more people in literacy programs.
“We want to encourage learning. It’s not only about the books but it is also about forming reading clubs around each of the centers,” Thengimfene said.
The e-libraries initiative is just a small part of Vodacom’s Mobile Education Program, a seven-aspect plan that focuses on teacher-development. However, the solid partnership behind the e-libraries initiative gives it an extra edge. It is clear that all the organizations are passionate about literacy and the new equity they hope it will promote.
“Between 2015 and 2030 we do not only speak about quality education,” said Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, “but about quality education that is a human right and that is a public good and a public interest.”
– Emma-Claire LaSaine