Wiki Textbooks for the Developing World

It’s quite easy to take for granted the fact that one is able to study with a full slew of educational materials and equipment. However, even textbooks take quite some effort and money to develop and publish. And the moment they’re in the hands of students, they’re likely to be obsolete in some way, or at least in need of updating (take for instance the recent re-classification of Pluto as a non-planet). There is so much new information available, and overhauling a set of texts takes so much time and effort.

Add to this the fact that educational materials are very scarce in the developing world. You get a very poor educational system. One possible solution: developing educational materials wiki-style. Get a handful of academics to maintain the content, and welcome contributions from everyone. This would perhaps be one good complementary activity to the $100 laptop project.

“The usual business model for textbooks just doesn’t work for these countries,” says Rick Watson, an expert on the development of opensource software at the University of Georgia, US. “Why not get groups of academics and their students to write them?”

Watson has recruited about 80 academics from the US and other countries to his Global Textbook project. It will produce free online textbooks using technology similar to that behind online reference work Wikipedia.

Anyone can edit or add to the texts that will gradually take shape on the project’s website, Watson explains. It currently relies on donations of time and money from the academic and business worlds, but in the long term will seek corporate sponsorship.

Even without online access (say, even before the $100 laptops get produced and distributed), the wiki-textbooks can ideally be downloaded and printed for local distribution. Now that’s cheap, open-source courseware!

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