The Indigo Trust focuses on funding technology-driven projects to bring about social change, especially in African countries. We thought that it would be a good idea to send them a concept note for web-based software that we wanted to develop. This software would replace postage in distance education, bringing textbooks within easy and affordable reach of students countrywide.
The idea behind the application
Higher education in South Africa is heavily dependent on distance education. South Africa’s biggest distance-learning institution, the University of South Africa (UNISA), has over 350 000 students. Every one of those students gets something in the post, ranging from administrative documents to learning materials. The post is unreliable. Sometimes the wrong materials are posted. The institution never knows whether the package arrived at its destination.
As a result, some institutions like UNISA are implementing compulsory online study for many students. This is a problem: two-thirds of South Africans have no Internet access, even through mobile phones (according to South African census data). If you can’t afford internet access, or if you live in a place where personal Internet connections aren’t available, you can’t study through UNISA.
According to UNISA’s announcements, the shift to online learning is part of helping their students adapt to the digital age. In reality, the shift to online means that higher education is becoming even more inaccessible.
We believe Paperight can provide an alternative. Imagine if any student could walk into any copy shop (or NGO, church, or community centre), hand in their student number, and have the books they need for their course appear on the Paperight screen for instant printing.
The student would print what they need only when they need it. No waiting for the post to arrive. No travelling to the post office – instead, any nearby copy shop would do. And the institution would know as soon as the student had collected their materials. Plus, we’d reduce the carbon footprint of shipping printed materials around the country.
This service could be also used by any organisation that needs to get documents to specific people, such as trade unions, churches, schools, clubs, or journals with subscribers.
Outcome of the application
The Trust thought that our approach seemed to be a more efficient way of doing business than is currently happening, unfortunately this did not fit into their definition of social change, and we were unsuccessful this time around.