Syndicate content

Ghana

An update on the use of e-readers in Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

you can't help but notice all of the e-readers in this classroom ... did you also notice the absence of books?What does it take to introduce e-books and e-readers into communities in low income countries -- and is this a good idea?

Judging by the increasing number of inquiries we receive here at the World Bank on this topic, we are not alone in asking such questions. If you want help in trying to answer these and related queries based on evidence from pioneers in this area, you will most likely find yourself at some point in contact with the folks at the Worldreader NGO. Co-founded by one of the former senior executives at Amazon, Worldreader is working with its partners to "bring millions of books to underserved children and families in the developing world".  Jonathan Wareham, a professor at ESADE in Barcelona who serves on the Worldreader - Spanish Foundation Board and collaborates with the organization on various research activities into the use of e-readers and e-books, recently stopped by the World Bank to talk about what Worldreader is learning from its work in Africa.

Education & Technology in Africa: Creating Takers ... or Makers?

Michael Trucano's picture

moving forward with innovation and ingenuityI was honored to be asked to deliver one of the keynote addresses at this year's eLearning Africa event at the end of May. (If you'll be in Dar for the event, I look forward to seeing you there!)  The organizers asked me to submit an abstract for my presentation by last week.  In the belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and in the spirit of what I take to be the increasing appetite of the World Bank to be more 'open' about what information it makes available publicly, I thought I would (mix metaphors and) send up a trial balloon of sorts here on this blog, sharing one of the themes I am hoping to explore in my short talk, in the hope that doing so will make my presentation stronger and more relevant to the audience. If past experience is any guide, there will be no shortage of people who comment (below, on their own blogs, via email and Twitter) about where and how I've got things wrong.

Before I get to that, though, some background:

E-Reading in Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

a, b, c, d, ... E?!Back in 2008, a World Bank study on Textbooks and School Library Provision in Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa [pdf] noted that "There is little or no evidence in any of the 19 countries reviewed of any systematic approach to, or consideration of, the full range of secondary textbook cost reduction strategies", adding that "Only 1 out of 19 countries studied (Botswana) had adequate textbook provision at close to a 1:1 ratio for all subjects and all grades."

In other words: There aren't enough textbooks for most students in Africa, and what is available is too expensive.

A number of groups are looking at this reality and wondering if the use of inexpensive e-book readers may be able to help.  One such group at the World Bank is exploring an e-book pilot initiative in Nigeria (which has been examined previously on the EduTech blog). This pilot is looking at what it might take to deliver textbooks in digital formats for reading by secondary school students on dedicated e-readers, and what might happen as a result.  It is not just looking at the use of official textbooks, however.  The project team is also seeking to investigate the potential impact on educational achievement of making small libraries of digital books available to students on e-readers.  In doing so, it is intrigued by studies such as Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations, which found that

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.