UNESCO launches two Digital Library Initiatives in South Sudan
The ongoing implementation of the UNESCO Digital Library Initiative focusing on “Building a culture of reading and research through digital media” saw a launch in two learning institutions in Juba, South Sudan, on 31 March 2021. The University of Juba and the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) Community Learning Centre were the beneficiaries. The launch event was held virtually and presided over by the Dean of Libraries, University of Juba, Dr. Michael Baffoka, representing the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. John Akec, and the Undersecretary, Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Hon. Adil Athanazious. In attendance were Partners that included: UNICEF, Embassy of Sweden, UNFPA and Education Cannot Wait (ECW). The UNESCO team was led by the Head of Office & UNESCO Representative to South Sudan, Mr. Julius Banda, representing the Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa.
This initiative aims to gradually build the culture of reading and self-learning using research on available materials in digital Libraries. The Digital Libraries powered by a device called Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning (RACHEL), contains a combination of freely available software and content modules that make it easy to bring online educational materials into places with limited or no internet access and power. RACHEL has got a 5 hour+ battery life, 1 Terabyte hard disk, can handle up to 50 simultaneous users, and has an extended wifi range of up to 150 meters. Learners within range can access content using Mobile phones, Laptops, Tablets and Computers.
While delivering his remarks, the Dean of Libraries, University of Juba, appreciated UNESCO on behalf of the Vice-chancellor. He said that the Digital library will be of great value to the University since it contains a variety of information materials for all levels available offline at no cost. He added that the Digital Library would bridge the gap caused by the high cost of books and facilitate adaptation and publishing of materials by teaching staff for free access by students.
The Country Director, WPDI Community Learning Centre, Dr. Richard Hoffman welcomed the initiative and lauded UNESCO for the long-standing partnership. He said that the Digital Library Initiative was just one among the other several benefits WPDI had received from UNESCO. Dr. Hoffman informed the participants that through the support from UNESCO, WPDI was able to access information resources through the Global Education Coalition (GEC) initiative. He added that the Digital Library will give young people resources to gain more information to be better citizens.
Speaking at the launch of the Digital Libraries, Mr. Julius Banda, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative to South Sudan, confirmed that the digital divide is real and UNESCO believes in finding concrete solutions especially those that do not rely on broadband Internet. He assured the participants that UNESCO remains open to welcoming partnerships to upscale this initiative across the country where it is most needed. He urged the teaching staff at the University of Juba to develop and upload local content to enrich the Digital Library for the benefit of learners.