Wikipedia Zero: Education is a Text Away


SAN FRANCISCO — Of all rules that a teacher can give a student in essay writing, “do not use Wikipedia” is undoubtedly one of the most dreaded. The public can edit the site by supplementing information on existing pages or adding new topics to the online collaborative encyclopedia, and the legitimacy of some of the material is questionable. The fact that this rule is commonly instated is also a testament to how often Internet users browse the website, regardless of its debatable credibility. Not surprisingly, Wikipedia is the fifth most visited site on the Internet. Use of the site is free and information is clearly organized, making its pages desirable for anyone seeking quick answers. For people in countries with limited access to educational resources, Wikipedia is a valuable source of knowledge because the information on the website is better than no information at all.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs the Wiki sites and various charitable projects, recognizes how vital the information on its collaborative pages are for people who do not have direct access to quality, public education. Like UNESCO, the Wikimedia Foundation believes that every person has the right to an education and has made dispersion of free information around the globe the central focus of the organization’s mission. The problem is that many of the people that do not have the opportunity to attend such schools also lack access to computers and Internet. Fortunately, access to mobile phones is much more common, leading to the solution: Wikipedia Zero.

Wikipedia Zero is a project developed by creative minds at the San Francisco headquarters. By working with cellular providers, it provides free use of Wikipedia pages to 23 of the world’s poorest countries. On smartphones, the cellphone carriers recognize the address of Wikipedia sites and eliminate the charges from the user’s data plan that would result from browsing Wiki pages. On phones without data capabilities, dialing a certain number sends a text to the phone’s user. The user responds with the material he or she would like to search and, in turn, receives information from multiple Wiki pages.

Frank Schulenburg presented the project in April at the 2014 World Literacy Summit in Oxford, UK. He explained how the project works and its overall benefits. Additionally, he spoke about his Global Education Program developed for Wikipedia in 2010. The overwhelmingly successful plan encourages college professors at esteemed universities to give their students the task of writing articles for Wikipedia as class assignments. Schulenburg’s initiative increases the trustworthiness of a large portion of the site’s information, further emphasizing the benefit of worldwide, free use of Wikipedia.

On average, six out of seven people in the world have access to a mobile phone. This makes Wikipedia Zero an ideal approach to effectively using technology to fulfill everyone’s right to education. If nothing else, it serves as a test project for alternate ways that mobile phones can spread education. According to research done by UNESCO, cell phones are more common than books in many areas that need access to education. As a result, they have been trying to develop ways to education children in these areas through text messaging. Although the information may not be accurate 100 percent of the time, allowing people in developing nations to enter into the global community of online collaboration and information sharing seems like a just response to limited access to formal education.

Sources: World Literacy Summit, Wikimedia Foundation, The Daily Dot, UNESCO
Photo: WikiMedia


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