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Small tech difference makes a big human impact

A simple tool that gives offline access to online content is an example of small technology initiatives making a massive impact on ordinary lives in Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Cisco highlights its social impact initiatives outside the Cisco Live venue in Barcelona. Pic: Arthur Goldstuck

Meet Ansu Kandeh. He is a student at Kabala Secondary School, the oldest high school in the agricultural town of Kabala, in the rural north of Sierra Leone. Home to fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the town does not have regular electricity, aside from generators powering some homes and institutions.

Internet access is almost unknown in Kabala. But Ansu is deeply ambitious, and wants to go to university when he completes school. When he discovered that the school had installed a device called RACHEL, that gives offline access to content that is usually available only online, he jumped at the chance to use it.

RACHEL stands for Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning. It is a portable computer box that stores educational websites to makes their content available over any offline wireless connection. In other words, a phone with Wi-Fi – but no Internet – can access a library of digital content.

Ansu quickly discovered:

  • Khan Academy, the legendary hub of free online courses and video lessons created by leading educators and experts for any course at any level. 
  • GCFLearnFree.org, a free service to help anyone around the world to learn essential skills for life and work in the 21st century, ranging from maths to Microsoft Office.
  • TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talks, containing thousands of videos of talks by expert speakers on education, business, science, tech and creativity. The  talks are posted online for free distribution under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.

The last was particularly compelling for Ansu, who has a passion for public speaking. He devoured TED  talks through the RACHEL device, using the techniques and skills he learned to become one of the best debaters, not only in his school, but in the entire district. Finally, he won a regional debating competition. 

“I have experienced a lot of positive changes in my life and my academic work since I started using the RACHEL,” he said. “Due to the increase in my academic performance in school, I was featured to be the senior prefect of my school.”

Not surprisingly, Ansu intends to pursue a degree in information, communications and technology.

His story was showcased at last week’s Cisco Live conference in Barcelona, where the prime focus was on new technology for making the Internet more effective, but corporate social responsibility initiatives were always at the forefront of activity and discussion.

Visit the next page to read about how RACHEL was born, Cisco’s conservation initiatives, and how RACHEL works.

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