Recently, I was in attendance at a Spectrum Customer Care conference, where the speakers were debating on the importance of the web. They were discussing, in particular, the many ways in which the internet helps in making our lives easier.
And through the entirety of the conversation that took place, I couldn’t help but nod my head at most of the arguments made. I only disagreed on one point. This was regarding one of the speakers’ claim that the internet is a tool of ‘power politics’. What he meant by this was that the World Wide Web, instead of promoting freedom and democracy all across the globe, was actually serving another function. Its primary purpose, according to his understanding, was to keep the rich nations of the world wealthy. And by the same token, to keep the poorer countries even more so.
Allow Me Some Room to Rant a Bit…
As a political philosophy major, I have heard this argument made time and again. And as has become the norm in certain ‘scholarly’ circles, there is no shortage of skeptics these days. Their purpose is not to offer constructive criticism, but only criticism for its own sake. And when such new-age ‘geniuses’ are confronted, they have a tendency to cry foul and protest. Some even go so far as to make personal attacks. In order to discourage the real ‘truth tellers’ from coming forward. But such is the way of the academic world. Here, it is the ‘animal with the loudest growl’ who gets to win the day!
The Internet Deserves Better
The internet, however, deserves better. It has certainly played a major role in bettering our world. And contrary to the speculations of its critics, it actually helps people hailing from poorer nations. To rise up, and better their life prospects. I have seen this take place first-hand, in my travels as a lecturing assistant to South Sudan and Yemen.
In these locations, children usually have to face a number of challenges to their healthy psychological, physical and emotional development. Due to the intense poverty present in their immediate societies, they are usually placed on the lowest rung of the social ladder. The same can be said of the women in these environments.
Promoting Literacy in Underdeveloped Global Locations
In the absence of properly qualified teachers and school administrations, the children in these places rely on NGOs and visiting foreigners for their education.
The arrival of internet connectivity changed all of this. And I personally saw a class of Sudanese children go through the first five grades of primary school in a virtual learning environment. The education that they received proved to be priceless. Because at the end of this period, they qualified for secondary school studies abroad. Two of the Sudanese children hailing from a purely rural background went on to compete with the students of an elite English boarding school in the U.K. And one of them even managed to bag a fully-funded scholarship for pursuing his higher studies.
Another student, who I monitored and taught from my home in Florida, belonged to war-torn Yemen. Both of his parents had died in the bloodbath that ensued following the recent Saudi bombardment of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. A teenager at the time of the massacre, his only wish now was to complete his education and go on to become an international lawyer.
Today, he has successfully completed his higher secondary qualifications and is planning on studying in a public university in Texas (on a USAID-funded scholarship).
The Challenge of Providing Cheap Internet Services
Other than these two examples, I can cite many more examples of how the internet has been used to successfully educate underprivileged students in troublesome global hotspots. And based on the experiences of some of my colleagues, I can present many other examples of one-on-one distance-learning that were made possible by the web.
A few years ago, a Spectrum Internet Provider tech told me of his company’s efforts to spread internet connectivity to the whole of the African continent. But this period has passed, and I know for a fact that such a transformation has not yet taken place. As an educator, I can only hope that this change comes about in the next five years. So that an entire generation may be saved from the darkness of illiteracy.