Nichole Saad is the senior program manager for education at the Wikimedia Foundation, and Edna Medina is a partnerships consultant for Latin America at the Wikimedia Foundation. The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and the other free knowledge projects. The Foundation is a new member of the 21st Century Skills Coalition, joined by nearly 30 public and private organizations to promote the development of transversal skills in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Since the start of COVID-19, when it was known just as an outbreak of atypical pneumonia in China, people around the world have been using Wikipedia to share and find information about the virus. Today, more than 5,200 Wikipedia pages about the pandemic have been created in over 170 languages. These articles have been visited more than 366 million times. But where does all this information on Wikipedia come from? And how is it kept up-to-date and protected from misinformation that’s plaguing other factions of the Internet? Volunteers. More specifically, a dedicated network of global contributors are diligently monitoring and maintaining vital content about the crisis.
A look at COVID-19 content on Wikipedia is a look at 21st century skills in action. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), 21st century skills, also known as transversal skills, are life skills widely transferable to different settings and not specific to a job, task, sector, discipline, or occupation.
Wikipedia volunteers, such as those contributing to COVID-19 articles, quickly add updates as new information becomes available, translate content to promote accessibility, and verify sources to ensure accuracy.
Caption: The trend in pageviews of Wikipedia articles about COVID-19. Explore additional data.
Yes, Wikipedia volunteers use digital skills to upload and share information on the platform. But they also exercise critical thinking when examining sources, conflict resolution when debating content choices with other volunteers, and empathy when considering how to share sensitive information about people affected by the virus.
This critical work by our global volunteer network is just one example of how Wikipedia operates and how it facilitates the development of 21st century skills. But the learning opportunities aren’t limited just to volunteer contributors; they’re available to readers too. Wikipedia is one of the best tools available to teach digital literacy skills, critical thinking, and more in an engaging way.
For example, through Wikipedia, students and teachers can examine an article’s references, edit history, and talk page, to assess its reliability. They can explore new places, cultures, ideas, and philosophies from their fingertips. Of course, all readers are invited to then help improve the content, moving learners from information consumers to knowledge creators. When students help improve Wikipedia, they participate in service learning: their edits are part of a global digital public good that helps others get the information they need. It’s a learning experience like no other, and one that can take place in a physical or virtual classroom.
Around the world, the Wikimedia volunteer community has engaged students in a variety of unique learning experiences. For example, Wikimedia Argentina uses Wikipedia to promote human rights education in Latin America. In the Czech Republic, Wikimedians help seniors develop digital literacy through Seniors Write Wikipedia. In Taiwan, volunteers work with aboriginal educators to revive languages and promote digital literacy and cultural transmission in the community. Many of these groups are now transitioning their efforts to be completely virtual.
As the nonprofit that operates the world’s largest, free encyclopedia, the Wikimedia Foundation has an enduring commitment to knowledge, and we know that learning must continue even if school curriculums do not.
To support teachers and students during this pandemic, we are working closely with our affiliates and volunteer communities who are most familiar with the unique needs and circumstances of a given area. In Bolivia, for example, we are providing teachers with the resources they need to use Wikipedia in their classrooms and strengthen students’ critical digital literacy skills. In collaboration with our volunteer community in Mexico, we’re participating in webinars to discuss the use of Wikipedia in the classroom, and the importance of online education and open educational resources.
Additionally, the Wikimedia Foundation has joined UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition to support students, teachers, and governments with digital learning resources during COVID-19. We are working with volunteers to collect information about the pandemic’s impact on education, and we’ve implemented a strategic plan to support out-of-school learners worldwide to make use of the free educational content on the Wikimedia projects. Partnering with IDB in support of its 21st century skills coalition builds on these efforts and opens new opportunities to leverage Wikimedia projects to advance equity and inclusion in education.
COVID-19 has brought with it countless challenges, especially for the education sector. But it’s also presented us with opportunities to explore new ways to teach and learn, build 21st century skills, and collaborate to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. We know we will rise to the challenge together.
In light of COVID-19, the Wikimedia Foundation has made available several free resources for at-home learners using Wikipedia and other projects, including lesson plans, “#EduWiki Challenge” exercises, and worksheet templates. Learn more about the Wikimedia Foundation’s response to COVID-19.