Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed several developments from the Internet.org global connectivity initiative at the 2014 GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, including the formation of SocialEDU, a program aimed at bringing “a collaborative online education experience” to students in Rwanda.
SocialEDU is a collaborative effort between Facebook, the Rwandan government, educational content provider edX, telecommunications service provider Airtel, and handset manufacturer Nokia, and its goal is to provide students in the African nation with free MOOCs (massive open online courses) containing high-quality, localized educational content accessible via handheld devices.
Facebook offered more details on SocialEDU in the Newsroom post announcing the initiative:
In this program, edX will work with Facebook to create a social educational experience by building a mobile application that is integrated with Facebook. Airtel will provide free education data for everyone in Rwanda who participates in the program for one year, while Nokia will pitch in with affordable smartphones that will improve the quality and ease of Internet access. To bring device prices down further, the government of Rwanda will support innovative financing mechanisms, such as interest-rate subsidies, micro-loan guarantees, trade-in rebates, and targeted use of its universal service fund. The government will also expand its Smart Kigali program to provide free Wi-Fi in campuses throughout the country, enabling students to access high-quality multimedia educational content. Furthermore, the government will work with edX to adapt course materials for local students. Airtel will lead operations for the phone trade-in program.
Normally, these types of apps consume a great deal of bandwidth to work properly. In order to ensure the success of the app in Rwanda, Facebook is providing engineering support to guarantee that the app creates a social experience that is optimized for a low-bandwidth environment. Facebook will work closely with Ericsson to test the app’s functionality at Ericsson’s facility, which simulates a 2G environment to provide developers with immediate feedback on the app’s performance in alternative environments. Later this year, Facebook, in partnership with Ericsson, will launch a unique testing facility that simulates alternative environments for developers to use when creating apps for similar markets.
Zuckerberg also discussed a study conducted by Deloitte to examine the impact Internet access can have on economic and social conditions in the developing world, and the main take-away from that study, according to a post on Facebook’s Newsroom, was:
The report found that by expanding Internet access in developing countries to levels seen today in developed economies, we could increase productivity by as much as 25 percent, generating $2.2 trillion in GDP (gross domestic product) and more than 140 million new jobs, lifting 160 million people out of poverty.
And Zuckerberg offered more details on the testing facility it is developing with Ericsson, mentioned above, saying that the Internet.org Innovation Lab will allow developers to test their apps in real-world environments and optimize those apps for customers in different regions. The facility will be located at the social network’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
On the subject of SocialEDU, Facebook Vice President of Growth and Analytics Javier Olivan said in the Newsroom post:
Internet.org is about working together to remove barriers to access and give billions of people the power to connect to the knowledge economy. SocialEDU represents this kind of collaboration at its best.
edX President Anant Agarwal added:
Improving global access to high-quality education has been a key edX goal from day one. Nearly one-half of our 2 million students come from developing countries, with 10 percent from Africa. In partnering with Facebook on this innovative pilot, we hope to learn how we can take this concept to the world.
Rwanda Minister of Youth and Information and Communication Technologies Jean Philbert Nsengimana said:
The government of Rwanda is excited to partner with Facebook to open up a world full of content and interaction to Rwandan students. The social education experience will accelerate innovation and propel Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy. We are committed to doing our part to make sure SocialEDU has the greatest possible impact in Rwanda. This is fully aligned with the government’s Broadband for All policy and the Smart Kigali Initiative, a public-private partnership that provides free Wi-Fi in Kigali’s most popular squares, buses, hotels, and public buildings.
Airtel Africa CEO Christian de Faria added:
We are honored to participate in this noble initiative. Education is one of the key engines for economic and social growth across the continent, with Rwanda amongst Africa’s most respected countries for its outstanding development record. We will do everything possible to support this ongoing reform using Airtel’s technological capability in the data and mobile commerce environment, to facilitate Rwanda’s rapid progress.
And Nokia Executive VP for Mobile Phones Timo Toikkanen said:
Our affordable smartphones help people make the transition from simple mobility to more sophisticated experiences. Playing a role in helping students get access to these experiences, such as social education, through the SocialEDU initiative is truly an honor.
Readers: What did you think of Internet.org’s developments?