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A Web 2.0 strategy for boosting literacy in Uganda

Siena AnstisWebsite

In 2007, Ugandan Archbishop Odama places an internet phone call to an internally-displaced people's camp 70 km away. Internet technologies are encouraging ground-up development like this across the continent. Photo courtesy Bosco-Uganda.

In 2007, Ugandan Archbishop Odama places an internet phone call to an internally-displaced people's camp 70 km away. Internet technologies are encouraging ground-up development like this across the continent. Photo courtesy Bosco-Uganda.

I first stumbled across BOSCO-Uganda in July 2008. I was nearing the end of my internship with the Women of Uganda Network and was becoming increasingly interested in what is being called information and communication technology for development or ICT4D.

BOSCO-Uganda introduced me to the idea of using basic technology developed in the Western world for community development in completely different cultural and social settings. In particular, they were using the Internet was giving young people access to a whole breadth of information never reached before: from grant-making agencies to international news.

Just over a year later, I decided to check in with Kevin Bailey, Organizational and Communications Envoy with BOSCO-Uganda, to see how the organization was growing. For some background material, check out my previous article here.

Since 2008, BOSCO-Uganda has grown exponentially. The organization now covers a total of 20 different sites, providing wireless Internet access and free satellite phone connections. With support to a local HIV/AIDS community based organization, a local Catholic Radio Station and a local government office, among others, BOSCO-Uganda has also started riding the Web 2.0 wave.

“We have really gained traction in our Web 2.0 Train the Trainer model at the community sites. We developed and produced a curriculum manual that is specifically for these rural based Web 2.0 trainings in rural northern Uganda,” Kevin Bailey, Organizational and Communications Envoy for BOSCO-Uganda explains, “The whole concept is based on getting the user to jump right onto the Internet and begin collaborating first, rather than following the typical Ugandan school curriculum of learning to use a computer in a very methodical way that begins with word processing, spreadsheets, etc., and never really get to practical use of the Internet for collaboration purposes.”

“We think that if users begin using Web 2.0 collaboration tools as a starting point, they will learn how to use the basic skills like word processing in the process (imagine a user learning to word processing skills by sending emails and making blog/wikispace posts),” he continues. Trainees have already started using their new knowledge and posting at www.bosco-uganda.wikispaces.net.

BOSCO also hopes to use their technology to teach adult literacy and numeracy. When I first spoke with BOSCO last year, they mentioned that teaching people computer literacy was difficult as they did not have the staff capacity nor scope. However, with new funding from UNICEF, it looks like their mandate is expanding.

“The idea would be to digitize the curriculum, put it on our high speed server, provide a set of low power netbooks and allow a literacy teacher to hold community literacy classes while the students learn using the computer as the tool to gain those literacy skills,” says Bailey, who also believes the use of computers will encourage people previously too shy to come forward due to stigma around illiteracy.

Bailey says the BOSCO’s uniqueness lies in simply “provid[ing] the medium to connect and offer[ing] a bit of guidance; the usage and direction will be driven by the community members who taken an active role in using our services.”

Morever, as Bailey express, BOSCO’s services “do not to be necessarily focused in one area like other development programs. We don’t have to just focus on education or health. We can be broad in our approach because ICT and connectivity affects every area of development and we’d like to work with others who see value in connectivity and collaboration in all development areas.”

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