“The impact of not having internet access in the 21st century will result in a lower quality education experience, which in turn will result in another impedance to economic mobility.”
We spoke with William about the challenges and impact that remote and refugee communities face without access to the internet, the importance of digital learning resources, and what Simbi Foundation’s Technology and Server research project is doing to improve the current BrightBox WiFi system.
William Lau is Simbi Foundation’s Think Tank Technology and Server researcher, which seeks to improve the reach of the BrightBox’s offline curriculum platform, Simbi Learn Cloud, with the goal of boosting the distance of connection and the number of people who can simultaneously connect.
What is Simbi Learn Cloud?
Simbi Learn Cloud is Simbi Foundation’s offline digital curriculum platform that curates high-quality content from the web and contains quality resources like the Simbi reading platform, Khan Academy, Wikipedia, content uploading, and more! Learn more here.
There are millions of people around the world without access to the internet. What do you think are some of the main reasons for this? And what is the impact on communities?
The bottom line is economic disparity, especially for the rural Indian and African communities that Simbi Foundation is connected with. Another big reason is the for-profit mentalities of internet providers. It’s more economical for internet companies to service densely metropolitan areas than to invest infrastructure into rural, low-density communities where not everyone will subscribe to their services. Especially when prosperity often agglomerates in cities rather than in rural communities.
The impact of not having internet access in the 21st century will result in a lower quality education experience, which in turn will result in another impedance to economic mobility.
Many remote schools also lack internet access — why do you think it is important that students have access to digital resources that are so easily accessible in high-income contexts?
The short answer would be that having internet access could increase one’s economic mobility and opportunities. Expanding on that, we are currently in the age of information, and precisely because of that, it’s imperative students have the opportunity to learn to harness the apex of this age. Practically speaking, the quality of education can be significantly bolstered through the internet, or even just offline digital platforms such as Simbi Learn Cloud, as physical mediums like paper and textbooks cannot compare to the ability to proliferate material to students, especially in low-income contexts where even paper may be more scarce.
The pandemic has forced students and teachers around the world to pursue education remotely. How has this affected remote communities like the ones Simbi Foundation works with?
I would speculate that very few are pursuing online learning in Bidibidi and Uttarakhand, as that is mostly regulated as a first-world privilege. I would also speculate that education is being put second in priority to survival for most individuals living in the low-income communities that Simbi Foundation is in contact with.
You’re researching in Simbi Foundation’s Think Tank to further develop offline digital solutions that enable school communities to access a mini, offline-internet of learning resources. Why is this important to you?
I stand behind the UN’s universal declaration of human rights that everyone has the right to education, and for teachers in communities like Bidibidi, digital learning solutions like Simbi Learn Cloud are transformational. On a less pretentious and lofty note, I find it really meaningful in using the engineering skills I’ve learned in school to help improve someone else’s life and to be a part of helping someone reach for a fuller life. If it’s in my ability, there’s no reason to not do so.
What’s the benefit of providing offline solutions in these remote contexts?
I believe Simbi Learn Cloud can enable grassroots movements within the communities to pursue educational wellbeing for themselves because the hardware is so readily available, easy to install, and incredibly flexible for the future. Bringing internet to these communities adds the burden of a monthly subscription and cost. The future of the internet landscape will surely change in such remote areas and Simbi Foundation will work to adapt and revise how we ensure communities can always have the best access to relevant digital and educational resources available.
Can you explain how the current BrightBox WiFi system and offline curriculum platform works?
The current BrightBox WiFi system (or Simbi Learn Cloud), takes the Raspberry Pi, a tiny and affordable open-source computer (like a stripped-down PC), to host an educational server for anyone to connect to. Once connected, they will have access to videos, textbooks, pictures, and even practice problems on numerous topics ranging from math, chemistry, biology, physics, arts & humanities, economics, and eventually computer science for learners of all levels, from first grade to college.
Your research is focused on improving the reach and capacity of the BrightBox’s WiFi and server system. What’s the goal? How can this help address the growing divide in access to quality education between major urban centres and remote and refugee communities?
The most pertinent short-term goal is to scale up what Simbi Learn Cloud can offer both in users and range. Currently, the Raspberry Pi can handle approximately thirty simultaneous users at a range of a couple of dozen feet but we’d like to expand those numbers to a minimum of a hundred simultaneous users and a range of a kilometer. The retirement of the Raspberry Pi and the acquisition of a more powerful computing unit will ensure that each student is spending more time learning, and less time waiting for a webpage to load or waiting to reconnect with the WiFi signal.
Interested in learning more about Simbi Foundation’s solar-powered solutions, our Think Tank, or our ‘simbiotic’ approach? Head over to our website to learn more!