Today, we’re excited to introduce SocialEDU, a pilot initiative that will provide students in Rwanda with free access to a collaborative online education experience.

How did we do this? By bringing together the right partners.

We worked with the Rwandan government, a telecom company, a device manufacturer and an educational content provider to develop a plan to provide students with free, high-quality, localized educational content and create a social learning experience that is accessible via handheld devices. The initiative builds on the success of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) by making it possible to access high-quality educational content affordably.

“Internet.org is about working together to remove barriers to access and give billions of people the power to connect to the knowledge economy,” said Javier Olivan, Vice President of Growth and Analytics at Facebook. “SocialEDU represents this kind of collaboration at its best.”

At its core, SocialEDU addresses five critical barriers to access by bringing together:

  • Free content
  • Free data
  • Affordable smartphones
  • Localized, social educational experience
  • A government that supports innovation

In this program, edX (edx.org) will work with Facebook to create a social educational experience by building a mobile app that is integrated with Facebook. Airtel will provide free education data for everyone in Rwanda who participates in the program for one year, while Nokia will pitch in with affordable smartphones that will improve the quality and ease of Internet access. To bring device prices down further, the Government of Rwanda will support innovative financing mechanisms, such as interest rate subsidies, micro-loan guarantees, trade-in rebates, and targeted use of its Universal Service Fund. The Government will also expand its Smart Kigali program to provide free wi-fi in campuses throughout the country, enabling students to access high-quality multimedia educational content. Furthermore, the Government will work with edX to adapt course materials for local students. Airtel will lead operations for the phone trade-in program.

Normally these types of apps consume a great deal of bandwidth to work properly. To ensure the success of the app in Rwanda, Facebook is providing engineering support to guarantee that the app creates a social experience that is optimized for a low-bandwidth environment. Facebook will work closely with Ericsson to test the app’s functionality at Ericsson’s facility, which simulates a 2G environment to provide developers with immediate feedback on the app’s performance in alternative environments. Later this year, Facebook, in partnership with Ericsson, will launch a unique testing facility that simulates alternative environments for developers to use when creating apps for similar markets.

Airtel Africa’s CEO Christian de Faria said, “We are honored to participate in this noble initiative. Education is one of the key engines for economic and social growth across the continent, with Rwanda amongst Africa’s most respected countries for its outstanding development record. We will do everything possible to support this ongoing reform using Airtel’s technological capability in the data and mobile commerce environment, to facilitate Rwanda’s rapid progress.”

Nokia’s Executive Vice President for Mobile Phones, Timo Toikkanen said, “Our affordable smartphones help people make the transition from simple mobility to more sophisticated experiences. Playing a role in helping students get access to these experiences, such as social education, through the SocialEDU initiative is truly an honor.”

Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana said, “The Government of Rwanda is excited to partner with Facebook to open up a world full of content and interaction to Rwandan students. The social education experience will accelerate innovation and propel Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy. We are committed to doing our part to make sure SocialEDU has the greatest possible impact in Rwanda. This is fully aligned with the Government’s Broadband for All policy and the Smart Kigali Initiative, a public-private partnership that provides free wi-fi in Kigali’s most popular squares, buses, hotels, and public buildings.”

“Improving global access to high-quality education has been a key edX goal from day one,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “Nearly half of our 2 million students come from developing countries, with 10 percent from Africa. In partnering with Facebook on this innovative pilot, we hope to learn how we can take this concept to the world.”

With SocialEDU, students in Rwanda will receive free data plans for accessing free edX MOOCs from some of the world’s leading universities, including Harvard, MIT, U.C. Berkeley, TU Delft, Australian National University and ETH Zurich. Our platform will allow students to ask questions, engage with other students, interact with teachers, and participate in group discussions. We are bringing the classroom to them and providing locally-relevant content, while transforming the educational experience to provide collaborative, social and sustainable learning.

We know we have a long way to go to provide access to the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have it today. Rwanda is our first test of this approach, and our hope is that this will serve as a blueprint for other partnerships to follow. Through committed partnerships like SocialEDU, we move one step closer to bringing everyone in the global community online.

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