In Kenya, a dig­i­tal class­room in a box

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

NAIROBI: At the Light­house Grace Acad­emy in Nairobi’s down­mar­ket Kwang­ware sub­urb, yel­low school t-shirts carry the slo­gan ‘To Fear God is Wis­dom’, but in their hands pupils clutch a more worldly path to knowl­edge: tablet com­put­ers.

The hand-sized tablets are part of the ‘Kio Kit’, a dig­i­tal class­room in a suit­case de­signed by lo­cal tech­nol­ogy com­pany BRCK, which two years ago launched the hard-wear­ing, brick-sized mo­dem that works as a wifi hotspot.

“The Kio Kit is a way to turn any class­room into a dig­i­tal class­room,” said Nivi Mukher­jee of BRCK Ed­u­ca­tion, the sub­sidiary that launched the prod­uct in Septem­ber.

“You open the box and there are 40 tablets in­side, there is a BRCK in­side and on the BRCK there is a Linux [open-source] server - so we can lo­cally cache ed­u­ca­tional con­tent, and serve it up to the tablets.”

In her crowded ce­ment-floored, tin­walled class­room with a stopped clock on the wall, seven-year-old Bless­ing taps away on her new tablet, learn­ing to spell. Un­usu­ally for a child in school, she’s smil­ing. “It’s fun,” she said.

Her teacher Josephine Boke, who has taught pri­mary school for 12 years, says the kit “is nicely de­signed for the young hands, and it’s easy to use and easy to adapt to the tech­nol­ogy.” “To the kids, they get ex­cited when they are us­ing it. It gives me an easy time as a teacher.”

Kenyan prob­lem, Kenyan so­lu­tion

Kenya has a thriv­ing tech start-up scene, in­clud­ing the enor­mously suc­cess­ful MPesa mo­bile money trans­fer sys­tem which al­lows clients to send cash with their tele­phones.

The tablets and the BRCK are sym­bi­otic: the mo­dem is fixed into a watertight, hard­ened-plas­tic wheeled suit­case which has slots for the tablets and acts as a wire­less charg­ing sta­tion for both.

New dig­i­tal learn­ing ma­te­ri­als are up­loaded to the BRCK wire­lessly dur­ing quiet times of the night when more band­width is avail­able, and then shared with the tablets dur­ing classes.

Thieves with an eye on the bright yel­low, tough and dust-re­sis­tant tablets will be dis­ap­pointed, as they can­not browse the in­ter­net nor be charged in­de­pen­dently.

Like the BRCK, the tablets are de­signed to solve Kenyan prob­lems. “In­ter­mit­tent power, in­ter­mit­tent in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity, those are just the re­al­i­ties of our in­fra­struc­ture, so we have to build so­lu­tions for those re­al­i­ties, rather than im­port so­lu­tions from other places,” said Mukher­jee.

At $5,000 (4,500 eu­ros) a piece the price of the kit seems high, given the am­bi­tion to pro­vide ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to all in some of the world’s poor­est places.

But with many schools lack­ing elec­tric­ity, let alone fa­cil­i­ties to teach com­put­ing, Mukher­jee says it is not only in­tended for the pri­vate and donor-backed schools in which it is cur­rently be­ing used.

“We see this kit be­ing rolled around from one class­room to the next through­out the day, through­out the week, chil­dren shar­ing it, hav­ing ac­cess to the kind of con­tent and e-text­books they wouldn’t oth­er­wise have ac­cess to,” she said. “We don’t think it’s be­yond the reach of pub­lic schools to spend $5,000 giv­ing dig­i­tal ac­cess to 400 chil­dren.”

Just five pri­mary schools and li­braries are cur­rently us­ing the Kio Kit, but BRCK Ed­u­ca­tion al­ready has 300 pre-or­ders and Mukher­jee hopes to be pro­duc­ing “thou­sands each month by next year”.

In South Africa, the con­ti­nent’s most ad­vanced coun­try, Gaut­eng prov­ince which houses Johannesburg and Pre­to­ria, started rolling out tablets to 375 high school pupils ear­lier this year.

The plan is to hand out 17,000 tablets to pupils in their fi­nal year of high school, and swap teach­ers’ chalk­boards with smart in­ter­ac­tive boards tar­get­ing es­pe­cially the poverty-stricken town­ship and ru­ral schools.

The tablets come with free data bun­dle which is ac­tive be­tween 5:00am and 9:00 pm while ac­cess to so­cial net­works is blocked. The scheme was ini­tially hit by theft in the crime-rid­den coun­try, forc­ing au­thor­i­ties to in­stall track­ing de­vices on them, of­fi­cials said.

And au­thor­i­ties came un­der fire for giv­ing ICT a pri­or­ity when some schools still lack ba­sics such as flush toi­lets.


NAIROBI: Teacher Josephine Boke as­sists pupils from the Light House Grace acad­emy in us­ing the Kio tablet cre­ated by the lo­cal tech­nol­ogy com­pany BRCK Ed­u­ca­tion, dur­ing a class sess­sion in Kawang­ware, Nairobi, on Oc­to­ber 16, 2015.

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