Why Wikipedia isn’t just for winning arguments and last minute reports

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Wikepedia is a wonderful tool that most of us have come across in our day to day lives. It is the new information tool of the masses, regulated and edited by the Wikemedia Foundation staff, and society at large. We use it for research and more often than not, to settle arguments – confounding friends and enemies with unbelievable facts and weird wisdom.

As young children, we grew up with Encyclopaedia Britannica; drawing heavy volumes from dusty bookshelves, and in our early teenage years loading the annually updated CD-ROM versions onto our clunky and undignified school library computers. When Wikipedia appeared in January 2001, it was useful to only a few people. Nearly 14 years later it dominates our online research yet its status as an unaccredited and peer-reviewed catalogue means that it is not formally recognised by education institutions. Unfortunately this means that Wikepedia cannot be officially referenced in primary school projects, high school reports and university essays, so we often disregard its value to others around the world.

Recently, a family member made the decision to donate to Wikipedia (thanks Mum!) and the thank-you email from Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Lila Tretikov, showed us the real value Wikipedia brings to developing communities around the world:

Wikipedia Email

This is the real benefit of keeping a free educational too like Wikipedia around. For those in developing nations who don’t have the financial or geographical means to access formal education, Wikipedia acts as a comprehensive self-learning tool; in a world where mobile internet is sometimes more accessible than water and healthcare, online education can be the way forward. As the email above says ‘…[Akshaya Iyengar] credits Wikipedia with powering half her knowledge…’ – it can be a tool that gives those who need it, a hand up of sorts.

Knowing the impact that this can have on people, it is worth looking at the value of online education as a whole. On top of Wikipedia, there are a whole host of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) offered to anyone who wants to learn. For geographically dispersed communities, online education could be the catalyst for sustainable agriculture in villages without experienced farmers; it could be the inspiration for small business owners in remote towns to export their wares internationally; and it might just open the hearts and minds of cultures around the world to work together in peace, and for a sustainable future for all humanity.

Perhaps this is too lofty an ideal, more at home in sentiment prose, than in contemporary discussions of global education. But, as we walk into the future, towards a prevalence of free online education, it is perhaps the best time to discuss, and to extol the virtues of sustainable and accessible educational. We leave you with a question, one that has been scrawled across the internet and by unknown authors on the unassuming walls of bathroom stalls around the globe. It really cuts to the heart of this discussion, and SustainingPeople hopes it encourages you to support projects like Wikipedia – you can donate to them here.

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