ZARIA, NIGERIA —
In Nigeria, more than 100 million people are not connected to the Internet because of poor infrastructure, and on the few networks that offer the service, it's expensive and unreliable. A new project has come up to give people - especially university students - a resource for offline viewing at no cost.
The offline eGranary Digital Library is an innovative technology developed by a U.S.-based non-profit organization called the WiderNet.
The offline library provides digital educational resources to institutions like Ahmadu Belo University, which lacks adequate Internet access.
Kasa Mathias, head of the database unit of the university, said students can access tens of thousands of educational materials without much problem.
“We are interested in sanitizing our students, especially undergraduate… We give them background information on the available databases that are available they can use for their research work their assignments especially projects and sometimes to carry them through sensitizing new databases that are available for them,” said Mathias.
First-year student of archeology Ibitoye Idowu said easy access to university reading material, documents and journals has made learning easy for him.
“You find some website you cannot get enough information some information are even just off what you are looking for. Now even it makes reading easier for me, just coming down here I will be able to get what I want and go through it and I would understand even better. than because not every lecturer knows really how express what he has,” said Idowu.
The innovation puts millions of digital academic documents, multimedia work and websites onto a server in the university. The information is then available to students at no cost, whether there is Internet or not.
The students' hunger for reading material might be met for now, but still there are complaints about power outages.
As Mathias was taking a student through the process of accessing information without the Internet, power went off. The student, Idowu, spoke of his frustration.
“The only challenge am having here is the power supply, sometimes it will just go off and sometimes you will just come about five consecutive times like that it will be just going off its seems very frustrating sometimes,” said Idowu.
The head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Professor Muhammed Mu’azu, said his institution has spent heavily on access of information made readily available for 40,000 students and staff at the university.
“With or without Internet access students and staff have most of these educational databases and university has also invested a lot in Internet access so even for online materials they are readily available for staff and students anywhere you are in the university campus,” said Mu’azu.
After investing so much on the accessibility of information, the university fears some students may misuse the privileges by spending most of their time on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter instead of university work.
However, Professor Mu’azu said it may be hard to monitor what the students are accessing.
“We are in university, we also be a bit careful about what kind of restrictions we impose on usage, but as much as possible we monitor if we discover excessive usage of band-wits we try to see exactly what that user is accessing,” he said.
Mu’azu notes that in previous years, a 10-page document would take hours to download, but now one can download hundreds of pages in less than 15 minutes.
The offline digital library, founded in 2001, is connected in more than 1,000 schools, clinics and universities in Africa, Southeast Asia and many other countries.
The non-profit organization WiderNet says it aims to expand the installations of eGranary to thousands of education and health institutions in under-served areas around the world.