We have always been advocates for elearning and free WiFi access, so if you combine the two, it makes us incredibly giddy with joy. The latest project by the City of Johannesburg is doing exactly that – rolling out free WiFi in public libraries and, at the same time, launching a new elearning project.

Executive mayor Parks Tau unveiled the city’s plans at the Sandton Library this morning, saying that over the next 18 months the Library Services, in conjunction with the City’s Information Technology Services, will be rolling out eWorld – free access to the internet and WiFi at public libraries across the city.

The first five libraries to benefit from the initiative are Jabavu, Noordsig, Orange Farm, River Park and Diepsloot. The City estimates that by 30 June, a further 30 libraries will be brought online.

“Digitisation, used smartly, breaks down barriers and closes the digital divide. The right innovation can undo decades of bad practices, and it is a solution that is now being offered by our public libraries,” Tau said during the unveiling.

In terms of the elearning aspect, the City has made a commitment to elearning by prioritising the Smart City’s Smart Citizen programme, through the Library and Information Services. That means, not only will library visitors have access to free WiFi, but students will be given access to elearning tools as well.

“Elearning content, enhanced by audio and video content, can be more engaging than traditional text-only study material and allows each learner to determine their own pace of study,” the City said in a statement.

While the City will focus predominantly on the youth and school-going children, it says that the target audience is all citizens of Johannesburg.

But the roll-out of free WiFi and e-learning at libraries isn’t just a launch-and-forget project. The City has set out a number of goals as well, which includes to improve the techno-literacy skills of communities to bridge the digital divide, empower communities through the access to information, and to “position the libraries as centres for open online courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)”.

The announcement comes two weeks after the City of Johannesburg (during its WiFi Forum conference) committed to creating over a 1 000 free WiFi hotspots of 300Mbps in the City by the end of next year.

[Image CC by 2.0/Nicolas Nova]