Dr. Mary Pettice
FYS 100: Going Viral
3 Dec. 2013
Social Media For Social Good
Ghanaian diplomat and the seventh Secretary-General of the United States Kofi Annan once said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” (Knowledge) We often forget about or become jaded to the millions of people across the world who are suffering because of redundant commercials and charities asking for donations and the general idea that there is nothing we can do to help. However, we live in a society where social media allows us to connect, share and create content, and experience social interaction. Social media has the potential to improve individual lives and entire communities. But it is up to us to become empowered and make a difference.
A team of storm chasers known as “iCyclone” consisting of James Reynolds, Mark Thomas and Josh Morgerman, endured the effects of the devastating winds from the super typhoon that struck the city of Tacloban in order to provide a genuine account to those affected through social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube served to inform the public and help return lost or stranded victims to their families. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, launched in 2004, used news and media to inspire change and educate young women to embrace their inner self, and disregard the unrealistic standards and expectations of what beauty should look like by the fashion and entertainment industry. When the Indonesian woman Prita Mulyassari advocated her disappointment with the services of a hospital in Jakarta to her friends online, authorities were quick to take action. In addition to paying a great deal of money for the hospitals losses, Prita was also detained for eight months. Volunteers, activists and even famous artists supported Prita by joining the Facebook group “Help Free Prita” and by raising the money needed to pay the amercement. These are just a few of the ways social media has been utilized for the greater good of a community or society as a whole. Modern technology and social media provides people with the tools needed to change individual lives, communities, and society as a whole for the better. Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, serve as a platform for connecting individuals across the globe and beyond the boundaries of time and space. It takes only one individual to spark change, challenge large corporations, and inform the public about issues within their community.
In 2006, I spent two of the best and most memorable weeks of my life in Tanzania, Africa with my immediate and extended family. It was this trip that sparked my interest in learning more about the education reforms that are taking place in this continent. One day we visited the Ayalabe Primary School near Karatu in the Ngorongoro Highlands.We were greeted with traditional African songs and dance, and my cousins and I even got to play a few games of soccer with them on the dirt turf. Even though some of the young athletes were barefoot, they still crushed us with little effort. I finally met my pen pal Tasiana, a girl the same age as I was at the time, who I had written to prior to the trip. The interior of the school differed greatly from your average American classroom. The classroom was bleak and empty, aside from the desks and chalkboard, and lacked books, supplies, artwork hanging from the walls, and other objects found in a typical classroom. It was nothing compared to the SmartBoards, up-to-date library, iPad and Mac labs, and air conditioning we are accustomed to in classrooms and often take for granted. After seeing the learning conditions of the school, I realized that someone needs to change this.
In his article, Jonathan Kalan discusses two brothers’ efforts in giving the African population a chance to be a part of the continent’s growing digital revolution. The two entreprenuers established Internet Coffee, a café within Mogadishu University that provides students with a place to gather and learn how to use computers and functions such as Facebook, Youtube and e-mail. The African population accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Bringing information and communications technology (ICT) to lacking communities could provide jobs for the millions of unemployed people and further stabilize the economy. “Over the past five years, fibre-optic cables and a backbone network to support them have connected the continent in unprecedented ways, slashing the cost of Internet access and opening up new markets for content, software, mobile phone apps and social media. From Somalia to Ghana, Dar es Salaam to Dakar, Cape Town to Cairo, Africa’s youth are finding ways to use ICT to drive growth, build businesses and shape their futures.” (Kalan) With the help of organizations such as Internet Coffee, iHub and eLimu, Africa can become an innovative and knowledge-based economy.
The efforts made to educate African youth through social media inspired me to create Online African Student Institute for Schooling, or OASIS. OASIS is different from other online education programs because it incorporates both learning and socializing. With computers provided by organizations like Internet Coffee young people in underprivileged communities will have the opportunity to gain knowledge and test their acquired skills in a classroom setting. One of the biggest issues I faced when taking a few classes online last year was the lack of socialization. There were no teachers or peers to talk to if I had a question regarding the material. To encourage students to connect with their peers, OASIS will have an instant messaging function similar to Facebook Chat. Here, students can share what they have learned and offer help to other peers who may be struggling. One unique aspect of the OASIS interface is the built in translator. Although this program is geared toward Africa’s youth, this program will allow students to connect with other students their age/grade level to other countries around the globe including the United States. This is where the social media component comes to play. Similar to the idea of a pen pal, students will be able to communicate with other students across the globe. If this proposal were to be granted, I could quite possibly reconnect with Tasiana. By incorporating the population of Africa to Web 2.0, or participatory web, many new doors will be opened not just for Africa, but the world. This social media platform will break the social barrier between countries and a river of all cultures will flow. This will be a public service and can be accessed by anyone globally. Because the classrooms and equipment are provided by sponsors and volunteers, there will be no cost needed in order to build the website. It is a free service created by educators around the world who work together to build a solid curriculum for each grade. My hope is that one day someone will develop my idea and bring about change in disadvantaged communities.
In short, I would like to give African youth the chance to learn and fulfill their potential. Spending two weeks in Tanzania opened my eyes to the idea that every child deserves an equal opportunity to become an educated and productive member of society. Organizations like Internet Coffee will provide students with the tools needed for learning and growing. Finally, with the creation of OASIS we will be able to overcome the Digital Divide and ultimately transform lives. I think it would be an important learning experience for everyone around the world to be able to connect with one another and see the similarities and differences between societies. Who knows, maybe in ten years this bridge could serve as a solution to many of the world’s problems.
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