Technology Closes Educational Divide in Developing Countries
In a town where books were once too difficult to get a hold of, a group of forty children at a small school in Ghana sit reading from their brand new e-readers.
Technology is moving ahead in leaps and bounds and its increasing speed, flexibility and affordability is bridging the educational divide between developing countries and the rest of the world.
Growing up, I remember constantly visiting the local library to get out books that I would devour within the week so I could return to get more. At that age it never occurred to me that by having access to books and the ability to read them made me lucky, reading was just something I enjoyed to do.
Former Amazon executive and founder of non-for profit organisation, Worldreader, David Risher, believes books are something everyone should have access to and this is exactly what he is trying to achieve.
Worldreader.org has been distributing e-readers across developing African and European countries, giving children the opportunity for an education in an attempt to eradicate illiteracy to improve the lives, careers and health of those in underdeveloped countries. Around 50% of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have previously had few or no books which Risher discovered while volunteering in Ecuador which was his determination behind starting Worldreader.
The e-readers seemed the most cost-effective way to provide schools with books as once they have reached their destination it costs almost nothing to keep them stocked with educational materials, making them a much better investment than providing a number of paperbacks. The ebooks come with study books already installed, as well as novels from local and international authors. Random House Publishing and Puffin have allowed free access to a number of books including the Magic Treehouse series and the collection of masterpieces by Roald Dahl.
As well as being affordable, the wireless technology also provides high quality education while being technologically sustainable. Some of the e-readers have text-to-speech functions to assist new readers and visually impaired children. They also allow the user to access local newspapers, magazines and health and voting information.
Bernard Opio, a teacher at the Humble Primary School in Mukano, Uganda, says it only took a few days for the children to learn how to use the ebooks, while the local teachers also received technological training and nearby businesses were taught how to repair the e-readers.
As of February this year, Worldreader has provided at total of 944,300 ebooks to 13,595 children in nine different African countries and so far and they have already seen improvement in areas of vocabulary, comprehension and fluency in school children.
A number of other companies are following suit, including Dell, which runs a ‘Youth Learning’ hardware and literacy program that was originally launched in India and is now operating in 15 countries. Like Worldreader, Dell believes having a literate world will lead to innovation and change. “It’s our belief that access to technology brings young people into contact with the broader world, opening up access to education and vocational training in a very cost-effective way,” says Deb Bauer, director of Dell Giving.
Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development says, “Young people are natural adopters of new technologies and certainly the potential for technology and digital media to be a force for innovation, education and change is just beginning to be realised.”
It is Rischer’s hope that in twenty years any child from any corner of the world should be able to access whatever book they want.