WiderNet providing free offline education for inmates

The Saylor Foundation’s mission – to improve access to high-quality higher education worldwide – is shared by many notable organizations. To foster an understanding and awareness of these awesome institutions, from time to time we like to highlight these groups on the Saylor Journals. Today, we’ll look at the work that WiderNet is doing. At the University of Iowa, the service organization WiderNet has created one (soon to be two) amazing off-line platform allowing those without sufficient bandwidth for a reliable Internet connection (or no Internet connection at all) access to a growing number of on-line educational resources, including MIT OpenCourseWare. Many institutions (including universities), particularly in less-developed nations, are lacking access to reliable connections to the Web and, subsequently, to free educational materials, often where they are needed most. eGranary allows those without Internet access to browse a variety of websites (provided by permission) and run searches. The institutions using the platform must only pay for the cost of installation, trouble-shooting and technical support (WiderNet is a not-for profit which attempts to be self-sustaining by simply charging the costs the organizations incurs).

The new platform currently in development is COEP, which stands for Corrections Off-line Education Platform. After installing eGranary in a few Iowa corrections facilities, WiderNet realized that a comprehensive platform directed toward such facilities nationwide would mark another great leap in improving educational access. I was directed to WiderNet by Brian Walsh, a Washington-based corrections education provider, while doing research for the Saylor Foundation. Walsh explained that off-line platforms are a necessary development in remaking corrections education, as Internet access is forbidden in the vast majority of U.S. prison systems.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, 900 times what it was 40 years ago. Most states are troubled by overflowing prisons, causing increased intra-prison violence and imposing monumental costs on state budgets. Providing an education for incarcerated individuals helps to alleviate these problems. Inmate education reduces recidivism, mitigating overcrowding and offering prisoners greater opportunities upon release. With new platforms in place to offer educational resources free of charge, the state incurs a very low cost and those barely able to pay the fines and court costs associated with their incarceration may be able to receive the training necessary to earn a paycheck on the outside.

Education is a right and a necessity. Access to education improves productivity and safety on every level of human organization – from neighborhoods to nations. Our hats go off to WiderNet and all those working to spread knowledge and open to all people the countless opportunities a good education can provide.

To read about eGranary and how you can get involve at, head over to http://www.widernet.org/egranary/. For more information on COEP and involvement opportunities can be found at http://www.widernet.org/coep/.

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