Archive for Education

One eBook Reader Per Child

The Amazon Kindle 2 has received some very good reviews, and has in the process reignited people’s interests in ebooks.

ebook readers have the potential to revolutionize education in Africa and the developing world. The lack of text books in schools is a serious issue that hampers the education of students throughout Africa, and ebook readers could play a significant role in addressing this issue.  What if every student has an ebook reader, and gets his/her text book in an ebook? Every student would have a copy of the text books and other required and recommended reading material.  Also imagine every student getting next year’s text books and recommended reading material weeks or even a month or two before school starts? How about making public domain books available for kids to download?

The technology is already available to make this happen (for example, cellphone infrastructure currently in place can be used to download books). The question is, could you make a good ebook reader equivalent to one of these devices for $100 or less, with the main requirements being, say, at least a 2 GB flash storage and with the cellphone connectivity that must work in Africa (Tri Band/3.5G HSDPA)? These are not impossible requirements to meet, since for one thing there are already cellphone carriers providing next generation services in some African countries, and many more will roll out services over the next few years.

Even though the Kindle looks like an amazing device, a closed, proprietary ebook reader should not be used in Africa. So here is a challenge for African computer science and computer engineering students: design an ebook reader that can meet the needs of African students for less than $100. This is similar to the One Laptop per Child project, but better since it aims to solve an existing problem: the lack of textbooks in African schools. It would be tempting to ask the OLPC folks to tackle this challenge, but it would be much better if this was designed by African students, perhaps in collaboration with the OLPC, since they already have valuable technical and business experience in this area.

A criteria for the reader design has to be that open source software needs to be used not only to reduce the cost of the device, but also to encourage students to extend the device and create applications for it.

One last suggestion to the student designers, make sure at least numbers 5, 6 and 7 of Seth Godin’s suggestions for the Kindle are part of the spec/design.

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