If there’s one tool I’ve been always been thankful to the internet for since I came to know this amazing tool, it is Wikipedia. I cannot live without it, and I’m sure even you don’t spend a day without dropping by the site to feed on knowledge about whatever it is you’re browsing on. The internet would be very disorganised without it. Yes, Wikipedia itself is not very organised, but disorganised order is the essence of the internet itself. Freedom in accessing knowledge and being a part of its creation. Open to everyone to use, to disagree and to contribute their knowledge. That is very powerful.
So, when Econet announced today that they were zero rating Wikipedia, I was blown away. I have wished a local operator would do this, but a part of me has always admitted there has to be business case, and ‘free’ is rarely so. But it has happened. Econet Zero means anyone with just the simplest of feature phones, and access to an Econet line, can browse the whole Wikipedia for free. It’s very hard to overstate how huge an impact this will have on internet users in Zimbabwe.
But it’s not just the Wikipedia. It’s a whole list of amazing MOOCs and other educational related site. There’s Coursera, edX.org, CodeCademy for the aspiring programmers, Udacity.com and Udemy.com. If you have used Coursera and edX, you’d know how big a deal this is. There’s also other subject specific sites like WolframAlpha (a Maths search engine), some music sites, some book sites, and howto’s like Wikihow.com.
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Econet Zero seeks to address one of our biggest developmental problems on the continent. Education and skill are a big problem in Africa. Where you manage to scrounge access to a simple device and a SIM card, the cost of mobile broadband data is still a big bottleneck reality for many an enthusiastic learner. The internet allows us to teach ourselves, but the cost of dat gets in the way. Econet Zero changes this in a massive way. So massive we risk not comprehending enough just how much opportunity this present before us right now.
Of course it’s not all the MOOCs and educational sites out there, but I’m not in complaining mode right now. Even if the list was just Wikipedia, edX and Coursera, it’d be complete enough. One very useful educational site we noticed is missing is bookboon.com, and maybe it will be added in future.
Some of these sites have heavy video content, so you start to wonder how the short term business case is making sense. How they are selling this to shareholders etc… But maybe on this one Econet (and their shareholders) are not looking at the immediate business case. Or maybe someone external – the founders, say – is paying Econet for it. We’ll try to find out more.
But whatever the source, for now it’s free learning all the way. And we think this is the greatest event to happen in Zimbabwe’s internet history!