With OfflinePedia, educational content reaches rural areas

A paved road, which begins in Cotacachi, in Imbabura, leads to San Pedro, a community located on the hill of the volcano. There, only 10% of the approximately 800 inhabitants have a computer and Internet, essential for education in the midst of the pandemic.

There are four students in Jennifer Inga’s house. Her brothers aged 17, 12 and 8 and she, 15. Although they send them homework via WhatsApp, they have to find out online. So her plan is to learn how to build a low-cost, working computer for her family, like the one she’s been using in recent weeks in a workshop she attends at her community school.

Residents see it as an option to overcome the suspension of face-to-face classes. The OfflinePedia workshops take place at the Intercultural Bilingual Educational Unit of Nazacota Puento. A group of volunteers teaches how to build computers with obsolete electronic components and put content on them without the need for the Internet.

The initiative was born in 2018, recalls Joshua Salazar, project manager. But this year, it becomes important. Since March, 4.4 million students have had to stay at home. Virtual tools, which are not available to rural households, have been helpful.

In this context, in a first phase of actions to reduce the digital divide, with emphasis on rural areas and in the event of school backwardness, the government plans to reach 350,000 students, said the Minister of ‘Education, Monserrat Creamer.

With Microsoft, they are making a pilot in Chimborazo, for TV White Spaces, which would use unused signal spaces. Television would become a device for accessing connectivity, he predicts. In addition, with CNT and Mintel, they are installing Wi-Fi access in rural schools, with coverage of 3 km, and seeking to fill the gaps.

For this reason, the Minister considers that projects like OfflinePedia are very practical.

In five other rural communities of Imbabura, Pichincha, Carchi and Pastaza, 790 people have benefited from this initiative. And 200 more will be added in San Pedro, Cotacachi.

There they have already taught the basics of Office. Now they are training students, alumni and parents in the community in programming. Then comes the program installer and they will learn how to create an OfflinePedia from scratch, with content to study.

The first thing is the collection of old TVs and computers from which components can be extracted, Joshua explains. They bring them together through donations to the Juntos Leemos Foundation in Cotacachi.

The main component is a card called Raspberry, where all downloaded content is stored. The average cost per computer is $ 100, which Joshua and his fellow Yachay students and alumni manage on their own. During this time, the community feeds and accommodates them.

Segundo De la Torre, rector in San Pedro, says they will be looking for more decommissioned computers. It’s a plan, until we see if they’ll be part of the pilot back to class. Lack of technology led 98% of parents to request a face-to-face visit.

Humberto Farinango fears that without the internet at home, his three daughters, aged 12, 7 and 4, will not learn as they did before the pandemic. This is why she goes to the workshops with the older ones. “I had no idea that with an old television you could build a computer. With my daughter, we saw data from other countries and we are reading a book ”.

OfflinePedia offers content downloaded from Wikipedia, Wikivoyage, Wikibooks, Wikiversity and free learning courses. It also has around 45,000 books of world literature and interactive games that teach basic concepts of physics, chemistry and mathematics.

In other communities, “compus” have been allocated to places of public access such as communal houses or one-teacher schools without Internet.
In San Pedro, there are no people infected with covid-19, explains Germán Farinango, member of Cabildo. But, to avoid meetings, computers will be delivered through a scholarship mechanism for outstanding students in the workshop.

“Projects like this are relevant now, they involve sustainable management of resources and promote the appropriation of technology to displaced populations,” explains Diego Apolo, specialist in inclusive policies in technology, education and communication. “The connection between academia and community is urgent, but the ministry must support these ideas that transcend the urban vision of technology.”