Access to education for all

We often take for granted the fact that most of us have access to a world of information, literally at our fingertips, 24 hours a day. Whether it’s something simple, like checking flight status or buying theater tickets — or something complex, like researching a pending patent or collaborating with a colleague on the other side of the globe — we can access just about anything we want, anywhere.

Imagine, now, the other extreme. We’ve all felt the frustration of losing Internet access for a few minutes or seeing a low battery signal on a screen. But what if you lived somewhere with no electricity? There’d be no charging stations, and certainly no Internet connectivity. Your link to the outside world would be, in many ways, non-existent. Now imagine that you’re trying to educate yourself, or your children, in this kind of environment. Consider the narrow scope in which you’d have to operate.

A significant element of Arizona State University’s charter focuses on global engagement, providing access to knowledge for those to whom it might not be readily available. It’s with that directive that ASU Associate Professor Laura Hosman designed an innovative portal to knowledge that can be accessed from anywhere… and it fits inside a backpack.

SolarSPELL is a portable, solar-powered digital library equipped with its own offline WiFi hotspot that has the ability to operate from just about any place on the planet. All that’s needed is a smartphone, tablet or laptop and a user can instantly connect to a world of information. SolarSPELL’s purpose is not to inundate remote corners of the planet with irrelevant or unnecessary data. Rather it is curated to include as much local information as possible. The result is access to educational tools in core academic areas not previously available, as well as to indigenous knowledge.

Currently, 280 SolarSPELL digital libraries are in use in countries including Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, Comoros, Rwanda and South Sudan. They are used by both local educators and Peace Corps volunteers and have been enthusiastically embraced by eager students.

It’s yet another way ASU is acting locally to connect globally and expand access to education on a worldwide scale.

Learn more about Dr. Hosman’s work with SolarSPELL here: http://solarspell.org/

Dr. Sethuraman (Panch) Panchanathan

Written by

EVP, Knowledge Enterprise Development & Chief Research and Innovation Officer at Arizona State University. #FutureOfWork

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