Lifeline sells rugged, solar powered MP3 player/radio for rural education – next generation device will have video

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The few attempts to create bespoke devices for education by NGOs and companies have not had a spectacular track record. The Worldspace satellite radio is no more and although One Laptop Per Child is probably more successful than its detractors would allow, the results are at best ambiguous. India periodically spawns very cheap laptops and tablets that get lots of headlines and then disappear. Russell Southwood talks to Kristine Pearson, CEO of Lifeline Energy about its Lifeplayer MP3/radio.

The Lifeplayer is a rugged MP3 audio player, 5 band radio and recorder. Its recording facility will allow it to record live speech and radio programmes. For the latter, users can record things like Farm Radio and health programmes. The recorded material on the device can be stopped and replayed as much as needed in teaching contexts. With its MicroSD card it has 64 GBs of capacity for audio content.

The Lifeplay has two main sources of power: a detachable solar panel that can be left in the sun to recharge and batteries. Alongside these, it has a wind-up system for emergency power. The life of the power system is variable and depends on how loud the device is played during use.

According to Pearson:”The Lifeplayer was created for education and information programmes in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The amazing thing about it is the volume of content. 64 GB is literally years of content.”

The Lifeplayer is currently being used in South Sudan, DRC, Zambia and Tanzania and it is being introduced into Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. Within a year, it has sold 20,000 units and Pearson believes that there is a market out there for hundreds of thousands of the devices.

The base price for the unit is US$75-80 but it is a bespoke product and the final price depends on the level of memory, the customization and the written materials and posters that come with it.

Examples of how it is used included English Language instruction in a programme through the British Council and use in community schools in Zambia at primary level. The devices go out with material for grades 1-7 and also material on early child development.

“There is a shortage of teachers in these schools so they tend to be run by community mentors who are literate in English and are trained to use the Lifeplayer as a teaching tool. There is research that shows that children in this programme that listen to the radio programmes score 10-15% higher than those who don’t.” There is on-board monitoring software that allows Lifeline to know exactly how each device is being used.

There are plans to include video in the next generation of the devices:”Video is exciting for health workers, being able to show how to pull a tooth and set a broken arm. It will also be useful for farmers and things like setting up small businesses. The applications of the product are virtually limitless.”

The Lifeplayer’s development seed capital was covered by one of Lifeline’s Ambassadors Tom Hanks and his friends. The business model is that it is manufactured through a for-profit trading company that generates the profits from sales back to a charity.

Pearson would like to see an Open Repository for education content on radio covering things like: long distance learning materials, agriculture, democracy training, nutrition, health and hygiene, setting up a business and HIV/AIDS. “Good radio programmes tend to get broadcast and are then lost to the archive afterwards.”

Video clip interview
which shows the device working: Kristine Pearson on the Lifeplayer, an MP3 player for rural education

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