When members of the SolarSPELL team visited Juba last year to assess the school's needs, there was an immediate interest in supplying offline academic content to the students.
“We were overwhelmed with interest and need from multiple community members and institutions and were glad to be able to partner with the Juba School of Nursing and Midwifery to help them by providing critical knowledge materials to assist with nursing education for South Sudan,” Heather Ross, co-director of SolarSPELL Health, said.
One Solar Powered Education Learning Library kit enables any device that is capable of connecting to the internet to access a specially created SolarSPELL offline library of information and download it for future use.
Specific need-based digital libraries can be built for particular institutions. In this case, in addition to a SolarSPELL library, the team was able to obtain South Sudan's primary and secondary school textbooks to convert to digital forms and supplement the initial library.
“We were floored because the Ministry of Education shared (the textbooks) with us, because they don't have the money to print them and distribute them,” said Laura Hosman, co-founder of SolarSPELL and associate professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
The students in the school were self-motivated to download the content and learn in their own time, hardly needing much push from the team or their teachers to take full advantage of SolarSPELL’s capabilities.
“They were already downloading the primary and secondary school content, because they all have siblings and family,” said Bruce Baikie, co-founder of SolarSPELL and adjunct faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “So they were recognizing that this is really a rarity.”
Baikie and the team are optimistic that their efforts in Juba will open new paths in East Africa to provide additional educational content for under-resourced communities.
“I think once we do this one really well, word will spread across East Africa,” Baikie said. “And it’ll actually be quite interesting to see the requests that we get from them.”
The team has ambitions beyond East Africa, having already deployed projects in the Pacific Islands and a few countries in Africa.
“We have at least half the world as our target market, because half the world is still unconnected to the internet,” Hosman said.
SolarSPELL’s intense focus on going directly into areas of need and developing meaningful relationships is what Hosman believes sets them apart.
“The fact that we go to the field and work with our partners and see what the realities are on the ground, that makes SolarSPELL stand out from similar initiatives,” she said.
Hosman said ASU is the perfect foundation for SolarSPELL because it has the resources, students and ambition as a whole to educate those in need.
In the future the team hopes to have a rapid response library creation team that can consist of ASU students and have a quick impact on those in offline areas, either locally or globally.
The SolarSPELL team is always looking for volunteers to work with them in a variety of areas, with more information available on their website.
“We’ve seen it in many communities in the developing world already,” Ross said. “SolarSPELL can be a game changer to facilitate a bright future for people around the world.”