Community Networks Stories: Building access to digital learning in Malawi, where connectivity is usually "only accessible to a few elites"

As part of the “Connecting the Unconnected: Supporting community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives” project, 12 community network organisations (four in Africa, four in Asia and four in Latin America) were selected and granted funding towards activities that create and foster a peer learning community. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing stories from the members of this peer community about local impacts of the work they carried out with the help of this funding. Today, we are featuring a story that was shared with us by Centre for Youth and Development (CYD) in Malawi.

With the help of the Connecting the Unconnected project learning grant, CYD has embarked on the UmozaNET project, aimed at setting up a low-cost community wireless network in Mzuzu, in northern Malawi. UmozaNET ("Umoza" means "togetherness" in Tumbuka) builds on CYD's existing work in improving access to information and community technology (ICT) skills in secondary schools, through the establishment of a wireless wide area network architecture for providing access to local digital resources and services and later to the internet.

The learning grant and other peer community activities were very relevant for both CYD and the community of Mzuzu, because connectivity in Mzuzu, as in any other communities in Malawi, is expensive and only accessible to a few elites. The grant opportunities enabled learning and know-how for CYD and members of the community on network set-up, and the community has now been able to embark on this.

The deployment of pilot connectivity to three schools, giving them access to digitised learning content through an intranet, has enabled over 800 learners to have access to Kolibri and RACHEL [the Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning], helping them to access digital learning. This is key in resource-constrained schools in Malawi with high student to teacher and text book ratios. The deployment of Kolibri and RACHEL on the intranet has added value since it is not necessary to individually visit schools to update content, or to collect user data for monitoring and evaluation purposes. 

In the future, provision of digitised learning content via intranet using Kolibri and RACHEL can be replicated and adapted by other organisations as a way offering self and independent learning to schools, adding value to other services that are provided by communities.

Centre for Youth and Development (CYD) is a Malawian child-, youth- and women-focused development organisation, which was established in the year 2012 to facilitate positive and sustainable change for children, youth and women in Malawi. CYD uses information and communications technology (ICT) to empower children, youth and women through access to information and skills building. Its areas of work include installation of computers and relevant software in schools and communities for development, education, entrepreneurship and agriculture.

 

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