Digital Libraries for Malawi
Our main project called „Digital Libraries for Malawi“ seeks to contribute to enhancing young Malawians’ access to education. We are cooperating with three pilot schools:
– Chaminade Secondary School — a boys’ boarding school in Karonga
– St. Mary’s Secondary School — a girls’ boarding school in Karonga
– Eswazini Community Day Secondary School in Mzimba
Chaminade Secondary School and St. Mary’s Secondary School are maintained by the Roman Catholic diocese of Karonga. The Bishop of Karonga, Martin Anwel Mtumbuka, is an important partner for the main project.
In many cases, the schools are not properly equipped. They cannot afford up-to-date material like school books for the lessons — let alone libraries for individual research — which would meet the needs of students and teachers. How can this situation of education in Malawi be improved? The digital era provides us with new possibilities to deal with those challenges and widen the access to knowledge and education. The key question underlying our project is therefore: How can we, given the specific situation at Malawi’s schools, use digital media to help expand their access to knowledge and education resources?
The Implementation of Digital Libraries
The vast majority of Malawi’s Secondary Schools either have no or a very bad internet connection. That is why the means in our effort to help enhance the access to knowledge and education are so called offline Digital Libraries. They can serve as a source for information (e.g. using offline Wikis like Wikipedia and Wikinews), but can also be used to store information in them and thus be replenished self-determinedly. The concept is comparable to a normal library. The technology applied to realize this should be easily usable, easy to maintain, robust, energy-efficient and affordable, so that the Digital Libraries can be used effectively and for a long period of time. A technology like that is called low-tech. Not because of „low/few possibilities“ or „low standards“, but because we believe we can achieve a significant success with a comparatively low expenditure. Mini-computers like the Raspberry Pi, which are already used for education in some European countries (chiefly in the UK), can be applied here, for example. In fact, the Raspberry Pi was specifically developed for education and learning.¹
The first project, which was based on the Raspberry Pi, gives an example of the implementation of Digital Libraries. The school had a computer science lab made up of old donated PCs which were not used due to the lack of an internet connection and virus infestations. We wanted to draw on the existing hardware. In order to do that, we configured the PCs so that they were connected and able to cooperate. Subsequently, we connected those PCs with the Raspberry Pi that we brought from Germany. On the Raspberry, we had perviously stored a number of Wikis (Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiquote, etc.). The computers could now access the contents provided by the Raspberry Pi and thus the the computer lab was finally being used for research.
- Jose Vilches: Interview with Raspberry’s Founder Eben Upton. In: TechSpot. 5/22/2012, accessed on 5/27/2017