Computerize Third World Learning

Computers must immediately be an integral and integrated part of schools in the Third World

Recently I blogged on about schooling the middle-class or lower-middle-class in African schools.

Since then I started thinking about the economics, and came to following observations and conclusions:

1. US$ 2000-00 per year is a not untypical fee for private schooling in the Third World.   US$ 4500-00 per year can be classified as high-end.  Typical state school fees may be in the region of $300 p.a. (which is punitive for the majority of rural dwellers).

2. Price of decent laptop these days (2011 – Toshiba L650) is about $800-00.  Very useable laptops can be bought for $500-00.  Mickey mouse laptops can be gotten for $140-00 (usually no hard drive, wifi only, 2GB/8GB maximum onboard storage, no capability for external hard drive)

3. Price of smartphones 2011 is typically $150 for a low-cost android 3.5 inch touch-screen ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) with 600 mhz processor and 2 gb onboard storage, gprs/edge/3G and wifi.

4. Price of textbooks – an 11-year-old has typically 10 textbooks, average 120 pages, for subjects English, Maths, Science, Social Studies, Religious & Moral, French (or other language).  Cost is about $20/book, $200/year for a high-textbook-cost country ($0.17/page – colour).  This compares with a high-cost photocopy cost (black-and-white) of $0.07/page.

5. Price of TV – coming down, but maybe $200 for a 20 inch screen, $600/32 inch, $800/42 inch (?).  Many even poor households have a half decent TV and DVD Player.

6. Price of DVD Player – probably $30 for a model capable of playing DivX standard

7. Price of blank dvd’s – $0.20 each

8. Given the above, there are several scenarios for private and for state schools.

9. First of all, it is necessary to recognise that the quality of textbooks in the Third World is pretty good (at least in English-speaking countries).  Sure there is still teaching of some outdated subject areas (like fractions and even the whole business of performing arithmetic outside the 1-10 zone in the Calculator and Computer Age).  And there is still intrusion of government and state propaganda into teaching material.   The interesting thing is that very little of school material is rocket science, and quite honestly most teaching material is essentially public domain and/or is/would be relatively simple to reverse engineer.

10. Moreover, the textbooks seem to BE the teaching – distribute the textbooks with relevant and interesting and well-presented material to students who can read, and the learning will take place, with experienced and skilled teachers, with inexperienced teachers, with child-minders/security controllers, or even without schools (the smart kids will teach themselves, and – if encouraged – will even teach the others).

11. Some observations –

a. Given the high level of fees for private schooling, it is ridiculous that one-laptop-per-child is not in place (I don’t mean necessarily these machines from the  project which are distributed as far as I know entirely without content, and therefore which as a program are bound to fail, or at the least not to succeed – content is the key!).   There are some obstacles to having one-computer-per-child in school:

i. Cost (pretty much an obstacle no more)

ii. Complexity (no longer an objection)

iii. Security – in rowdy classrooms, computer theft would be a major problem. Fortunately, most Third World Classrooms (unlike western classrooms) are NOT rowdy.  Even then, theft could/would be a problem, and could be countered by lock-to-desk, check-out-check-in and use-at-school only and other measures and policies.  Even use of one large-screen computer by the teacher in a classroom could/would be a major improvement

iv. Copyright/stopping copying/making money for the content creators: this problem is best made by creating the materials and distributing universally for free – i.e. make the content public domain.  Fund by paying off the publishers and authors as a once-off or several-years payments.  This would greatly help state schools and home/cooperative schooling, since they would get their material/ content for free.  One of several global programs of content creation (also with locally-funded local content) would make the exercise very affordable.  It could be funded from existing Aid and Development/DevCoop budgets….

v. Fear by teachers of technology and of job-losses

vi. Fear by authors and publishers of losing income

b. A wide variety of technologies could be used:

i. Dvd players could be used in the home (if they have mains electricity/ solar/ generator/ community generator).  One can using photo/jpg slideshow packages create dvd’s with typically 4000 pages of textbooks in readable format per dvd and costing $0.20 each.  The school can provide each year’s content easily within one dvd.

ii. Computers and laptops – belonging to school and/or to student – can be used with local storage of the content –  2 gb or less would contain enough content for one year’s courses

iii. Smartphones could be used with local storage of the content on sd card – probably 4-8gb would be required of internal memory, and a pdf reader and/or html browser.

iv. A local  school computer server can be used with an unlocked wifi system, to provide every student with total access to all school material (but with no external internet connection).  This access can be from laptop, smartphone, wifi tablet or even CIEM (cheap internet-enabled phone – which typically sells for $40 in 2011)

v. USB flash ram can be used if required to carry content and student’s output between home computer/smartphone and school computer or teacher’s server for homework submission.

vi. As systems develop, then dynamic content can be developed, where static content and mini-tests/feedback, complete tests, and even exams are conducted, stored, processed and reported.  Once again this can be developed as one or several global public domain projects (UNESCO can pay for it)

12. Handwriting should be discontinued – everything should be typewritten, and spelling checker should be used also

13. Arithmetic as mentioned earlier can be phased out

14. Use of local copies of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias and even offline Google content should be used

15. Emphasis should be on learning how to learn, and on organising self and others

16. Languages can be done partially or completely using translation packages, offline and online

17. The result of all this kind of stuff?

a. Better educational quality

b. More motivated students

c. Lower cost education

d. Affordable education for all, including those at the bottom of the economic ladder

I rest my case

Alex Weir, Gaborone, Botswana
Saturday 6 August 2011


About alexweir1949

software developer, inventor and innovator, Fraud Proof Voting Systems Inventor, founder of Based in Botswana and Zimbabwe, work everywhere.
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