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November 2009

A Talking Book for Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

a school in rural Ghana (courtesy World Bank photo archive)How do you provide vital information and literacy training to people with limited access to either -- especially if they are located in rural parts of Africa?  Cliff Schmidt, the founder of Literacy Bridge, recently stopped by the World Bank to discuss his work in northern Ghana to help investigate answers to this question.  Most groups seeking to harness the power of information and communication technologies in developing countries in support of such objectives pilot test their 'solutions' where it is easiest to do so -- often in (reasonably) well-off urban or suburban settings (often buidling off prior experience using such technologies in OECD countries).  Literacy Bridge is notable in that it prioritizes helping people with the greatest challenges, rather than focusing on the easiest to reach. 

The 'Talking Book' is a low-cost audio device device with recording capabilities -- imagine a rubbery MP3 player about the size of a grapefuit -- rather ingeniously engineered (and re-engineered) to meet specific needs and usage scenarios in very poor communities in Africa.  It is designed for use in local languages, using locally produced content, as tool to promote literacy among primary school children (to cite just one goal and target group). One way to think of the device, Cliff said, is as a  'small portable computer without a display'.  While the project is still in its pilot stages, it is notable for its express interest in investigating solutions that are low cost and scalable from the beginning, and in rigorously monitoring and evaluating the impact of its interventions.

An international digital library for children

Michael Trucano's picture

reading times, they are a-changing ... (image courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv)What will reading be like for children around the world in the digital age? 

Ben Bederson thinks this is a question we should be asking children themselves.

Bederson, a professor at the University of Maryland (USA) and the co-founder (with Allison Druin) of the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL), was the keynote presenter at an event in Hangzhou, China earlier this week sponsored by UNESCO, the World Bank, the Korean Education & Research Information Service and a number of other partners.  The ICDL (not to be confused with the International Computer Driving Licence, which shares the same acronym) is dedicated to building a collection of "outstanding children's books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children". The ICDL, which is part of the World Bank-funded READ project in Mongolia, currently features children's books in over 50 languages and receives over 100,000 visitors a month to its web site.

At the heart of Bederson's wide-ranging talk (and indeed at the heart of the ICDL itself) is a belief in the value and importance of child-centered design. Notably (and rather famously, in some quarters) the ICDL utilizes children as design partners in the development of the digital library, and how it is used.  Adopting this approach sometimes yields approaches that, at least for many in the audience in Hangzhou, were rather surprising.

The Maine thing about 1-to-1 computing

Michael Trucano's picture

these days Maine is internationally famous for much more than just lobsters ...A personal digital device,
at the point of learning,
as defined by the student.

The Magellan Plan in Portugal, Plan Ceibal in Uruguay and other various One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiatives around the world ... before all of these well-publicized large scale national educational technology programs came the 'granddaddy' of all such 1-to-1 computing initiatives: the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) in the northeastern corner of the United States.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative web site catalogues a number of Maine "firsts" :

  • first state to seize the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms statewide
  • first state with a plan to equip all students and teachers in grades 7 to 12 with personal learning technology statewide
  • first state to equip every 7th and 8th grade student and 7th through 12th grade teacher statewide with personal access to learning technology
  • first state to empower every 7th through 12th grade teacher in every school statewide with professional development and support to fully tap the potential of computers and the Internet
  • first state to provide the option of home Internet access to every 7th and 8th grade student in every school statewide

 
For those looking to learn more about the potential of and practical lessons from 1-to-1 computing initiatives for students, Maine is the longest-running and most-studied such program.

Television for a change (revolution in a box)

Michael Trucano's picture

public domain image of the Braun HF television from 1958 comes courtesy of Oliver Kurmis via Wikimedia CommonsA quick check of the user logs for the World Bank's EduTech blog shows that postings on the use of mobile phones in education consistently draw the most readers.  While highlighting the new and innovative appears to grab the attention of visitors, there is no denying the impact that 'old' technologies like radio and television continue to have on education around the world.  In an optimistic cover story in the most recent edition of Foreign Policy magazine, my World Bank colleague Charles Kenny makes the case in Revolution in a Box that, despite the recent hype around new Web 2.0 tools (like Twitter or Facebook), it is not the computer, but the TV that "can still save the world".