Wikipedia Primary School/Opportunities and Challenges
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Wikipedia is already the most powerful and accessible educational tool but it does not respond to curriculum-based questions.
The project moves from the observation that Wikipedia is already the major contemporary and mainstream source of information. With over 400 millions readers, 280 linguistic editions and more than 10 million articles, Wikipedia is the largest and most used encyclopaedia and an incredibly powerful educational tool. It is an online archipelago of websites, it is accessible via computers and mobiles phones, it is available offline on CD, DVD and USB keys and its content can be freely used, reused and modified for commercial and non commercial purposes.
In 2011 the non profit association Wikimedia Kenya has distributed Wikipedia offline in several Kenyan high schools. The initiative was welcomed by teachers and students, yet the experience showed a gap: students immediately noticed that Wikipedia was a valuable resource, but it did not provide content relevant to their curriculum-based questions.
Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment. Wikipedia and Wikimedia movement vision.
Wikipedia is at the centre of a growing research literature. It is the object of analysis which focuses on particular on open collaboration: motivations, assessment, systems of internal control (Benkler 2006, O'Neil 2009). A specific literature and a series of data analysis are also highlighting the inadequate international outreach and participation of Wikipedia. Wikipedia presents an over-representation of the socalled Western-based subjects and an under-representation of the subjects related to the so-called “Global South” (Ford 2011, van der Velden 2011, Graham 2011).
Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and it is meant to provide general information on a subject. It is not a schoolbook and it requires a certain degree of literacy to be read and understood. Thanks to their license, Wikipedia content can be republished, adapted and reused for new and different purposes.
There are 285 linguistic editions of Wikipedia; 32 of the 35 languages used for instruction in Africa have a Wikipedia edition. Seychellois Creole (used in the Seychelles), Luba (used in Congo DR) and Southern Ndebele (used in South Africa and Zimbabwe) do not have a Wikipedia edition. Southern Ndebele has a test running since 2009 on Wikipedia Incubator with only one article written. Looking at Wikipedia editions in the languages used for instruction in Africa, only English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese have over 750’000 articles; Arabic has almost 200’000. Between October 8th and November 8th, the growing rate of those editions is between 3’000 and 23’000 articles; the other editions have a rate between 30 and 378 articles (Afrikaans and Swahili Wikipedias have the most significant growing rates). Only Malagasy and Yoruba Wikipedias have over 30’000 articles but a very limited growing rate (-1 and +53). Those data summarise the current state and hierarchy of Wikipedia editions.
Wikipedia is provided for free on smartphones in 18 countries of Africa and Middle East by Orange mobile phone company. Wikipedia is also provided offline. In particular in 2012 a new Kiwix-USB plug has been developed by Kiwix and Wikimedia France and distributed in Africa specifically through the Afripedia project.
Wikipedia has a quality assessment process. According to the guidelines, the best Wikipedia articles should meet the polities regarding content and have to be well-written, comprehensive, well-researched, neutral and stable. Furthermore, they have to have a concise lead section that summarises the topic and prepares the reader for the detail in the subsequent sections, and an appropriate structure with a substantial but not overwhelming table of contents. The article’s length should be appropriate so that it “stays focused on the main topic without going into unnecessary detail” and be illustrated with appropriate and sufficient media. The Wikipedia Quality Assessment projects have developed independent and collaborative evaluations systems. Featured articles and quality articles ratings are assigned through a community procedure. The overall impression is that Wikipedia in English presents an average of qualitatively better articles and that Wikipedia gives better performances on articles on specific subjects, than in general, introductory ones on a particular subject. The quality of Wikipedia articles still needs to be assessed and verified also outside the remit of Wikipedia and collaborative processes.
The experience of the offline distribution of Wikipedia implemented in Kenya within the project Wikipedia for Schools showed that the content of Wikipedia in English distributed in thirty Kenyan high schools was welcomed but it did not offered content sufficiently linked to the Kenyan school curriculum. Students requested content more specifically linked to their curricula.
Achieve Universal Primary Education. MDG Millennium Development Goals number 2
Primary school education is at the centre of the second Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which aims at achieving universal primary education and it is related to the goal number 3, which aims at promoting gender equality and at empowering women. Furthermore the MDG are linked to the “Education for All” (EFA) programme led by UNESCO. The 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report stats that: “on current trends, the goal of universal primary education (UPE) will be missed by a large margin”. In November 2012 UNICEF released a study that forecasts a 4% increase in the global population of children by 2025. By 2050 “1 in every 3 births – almost 1 in every 3 children under 18 – will be African”. In some Sub-Saharan African countries, the population of school-aged children will double between 2010 and 2025.
Primary education constitutes the ground for the development of personality. It aims to enact literacy and to offer an essential contribution to understand the complex reality everybody lives in and to be part of it as a citizen. In primary school pupils acquire and apply knowledge and skills, and disciplines are means to achieve educational goals rather than simple set of notions. Primary education provides access to higher education and to a workplace, as it provides the basic skills to engage in entrepreneurship. It is also important to mention that contents and skills related to primary education do not refer to children only. Primary education involves adults, lifelong learning and the opportunity to develop and maintain skills. The specific challenges related to mobility, migration and learning in a new language are strongly related to the availability of Open Education Resources related to primary education in all languages. Primary education programs indicate skills that students must achieve. The European Union identified the key competences necessary for personal fulfilment, active citizenship, social cohesion and employability in a knowledge society and identified in the specific list as: 1) communication in the mother tongue; 2) communication in foreign languages; 3) mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology; 4) digital competence; 5) learning to learn; 6) social and civic competences; 7) sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; 8) cultural awareness and expression. The curricula focuses on literacy and numeracy, and the knowledge provided needs to be meaningful to the pupils’ own lives. Content is therefore related also to life skills, citizenship and it fosters the capacity of understanding the complex reality of the world (geography, history, natural sciences, languages, mathematics, and technology). A balance between local, national and international content is essential. The skills acquired in the first years of education are essential for the entire educational career of children.
Schoolbooks are not available to all students. Even South Africa shows the severity of the situation. Teachers require additional training and teaching materials in order to develop effective content and enable primary schools to reach their full potential. There are hardly any Open Education Resources aimed at primary school. Open Education Resources rather focus on secondary school and university. Publishers are a major stakeholder in the control of textbooks and its business. Alternative models exist, and teachers and NGOs have a major role in developing those teaching materials and new textbooks. We can approximately state that the languages used for instruction in Africa are 35 (considering official and permitted languages). In reality, in particular in the first years of primary school, children start learning in the language they speak (the so-called local languages); if we count all those languages, the languages used for instruction in Africa are far more than 35. In many countries children start their education in their own language; another national language is added since the early years and used consistently for further education. But as the South African example shows, teachers are not always comfortable in teaching in the secondary national language; this gap has major repercussions on the entire educational career of children.
South Africa has released its White Paper on e-Education in 2004, yet computers remain in the office and are used for administrative support and the ICT in Education survey in 2010 reports that only 6% of classrooms have computers connected to the Internet and used by learners who do CAT (Computer Application Technology) as a subject.
Education is an ecosystem involving many stakeholders: organisations, public institutions, local communities, school infrastructures, projects, individual initiatives... Due to the complexity of this ecosystem, people who are part of it are often unaware of the scenario they operate in and they do not benefit from best practices and the opportunity of relating to other people and organisations. A project on Wikipedia should also provide access to this information.
Opportunities and challenges