Facebook, SocialEDU, and Bridging the Digital Divide

Mar 17 • Facebook, Social Media • 44654 Views

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When you think about Facebook, you probably think of frivolous things, like selfies and Candy Crush. Recently, however, the social media giant has been instrumental in creating a cooperative effort toward a worthy cause: the education of students in Rwanda. SocialEDU, a pilot project of Internet.org, will provide Rwandan students with free access to online educational tools.


So what is Internet.org? Internet.org is a partnership between companies that include Ericsson, MediaTek Inc, Opera, Facebook, Samsung, Nokia, and Qualcomm; it’s aimed at bringing internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the world currently not online. The idea is one of leveling the playing field, and giving the rest of the world the same opportunities enjoyed by those of us in the fortunate one-third already connected.


To that end, SocialEDU was developed to create a “social learning experience” accessible to students in Rwanda, via handheld devices. In order to accomplish this, Facebook is working with edX.org, Airtel, Nokia, and the government of Rwanda, to provide students with affordable high-quality educational content. Through a mobile app designed by edX.org and integrated with Facebook, students will have access to a “social educational experience”, with free data provided by Airtel for one year, and affordable smartphones from Nokia. The Government of Rwanda will work with these companies to help lower the costs further, and Facebook will provide engineering support to optimize the app for environments with low band-width.


Everyone involved seems really excited about it, from executives at Facebook, Airtel, and Nokia, to Rwandan government officials, and indeed, it seems like a noble endeavor. SocialEDU will open a wealth of opportunities for students, allowing them to access free edX MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from some of the top universities in the world, including Harvard, MIT, U.C. Berkeley, TU Delft, Australian National University and ETH Zurich. It’s an amazing opportunity for those students, and one that could conceivably lead to the institution of similar programs in other parts of the world as well- one further step in the efforts to bring everyone online.


Forgive me if my next statement sounds a little cynical, but it’s not without benefit for Zuckerberg. Did you catch that part about the new app being integrated with Facebook? As the younger demographic continues to jump ship, Facebook has to find new members somewhere- why not broaden the global horizons in search of new friends? Still, benevolence and self-interest are not mutually exclusive. In the end, it really is a pretty remarkable undertaking, and will likely have a major impact on a large number of students.


Do you think global connectivity is crucial? And is Zuckerberg in it for the students or the new users? Ultimately, does it matter?


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