The perks of having internet access as a student

Internet access and affordability is one of the principles of the Declaration (Principle 2). In this blog post, Yolanda Mlonzi, a South African International Relations and Media Studies student who works at the Association for Progressive Communications, provides a personal perspective on the issue. Why is Principle 2 a key principle of the Declaration and why is having affordable and accessible internet so important for her and her education?

“How do I write an academic research proposal?” I blurted this out in my Media Studies honours class. The lecturer looked at me and said, “Google it!” And that’s when I knew, the Internet was going to be my best friend.

For my undergraduate degree I majored in International Relations and Media Studies, so when it came to choosing what I will be doing for my honours degree it was a tough choice. Both these disciplines are so relevant and interesting, as they both give insights to what is happening in the world and why. I love staying in the loop with current affairs, music, and culture and being a couch potato sometimes, hence I opted to do my honours degree in Media studies. I love what I study and I’am enjoying my first real year doing academic research. In the process leading up to writing my research report, I had a lot to think about:

  • What is happening right now in the world?
  • What are some of the media issues, opportunities and challenges that Africa faces?
  • Who owns the media in my country and why?
  • How am I going to possibly condense all my thoughts in a nice and neat research topic that I could present to my supervisor?

Boy, my stress levels were on an all-time high, and this is where having reliable access to the Internet saved me. Through being able to access the Internet at university and at home, I was able to answer all my burning questions through a couple of clicks online. The Internet provided me with different resources and information from different parts of the world across universities on the ways of assembling a research proposal. This was a relief and an invaluable service that the Internet provided me with.

I found myself thinking what I would have done had I not had reliable access to the Internet, or rather, how difficult it would have been to access some of that information offline. The truth is, the Internet has made things easier, and learning is much more fun. Needless to say, many don’t have the opportunity to fully enjoy the internet and its opportunities (20.7% of Africans use the Internet, compared to an average of 35.3% across developing states and 82.2% in developed states) due to the high cost of the internet, which makes it unaffordable for many. However, even though the internet helped in me getting tons of information, there were still some gaps I identified.

  • When searching for research proposal templates, mostly universities from the States and Europe were points of reference
  • There were little or no African sources

This made me wonder why there was a lack of content that represented African sources. Could this be that:

  • There were no African resources online?
  • Were other resources prioritised online?
  • Did Africans not do research proposals?

As far as I’m concerned, as a young person and student in South Africa, these are really important questions. After all, it is Africa’s current students that will be the next leaders. I also thought about how the issues of internet access and affordability were linked to this underrepresentation of African research. Was this the reason for the lack of resources online, because the Internet remains out of the hands of many due to cost and limited infrastructure in most parts of Africa? I wonder…

The African Declaration makes this important recognition of the importance of the Internet access and affordability across Africa. As it says, “access to the Internet plays a vital role in the full realisation of human development, and facilitates the exercise and enjoyment of a number of human rights and freedoms, including … the right to education…and the right to social and economic development.” My research proposal may just be one tiny case in point but it speaks to that larger issue of how important the Internet is for education these days, and by extension, for development and economic empowerment.