$100 Zedupad Tablet the Answer to Zambia’s Failing School System?

Computing

Many African schools are failing their pupils. Through a combination of lack of resources, low teaching skills and many other factors, the students who come out at the other end do not have the skills and understandings required. In a fortnight’s time iSchools in Zambia will launch a tablet or under US100 pre-loaded with the curriculum for schools and parents. I talked to its founder Mark Bennett about what it wants to do.

Zambia has 8,800 schools, 500 of which cover the full secondary syllabus. The majority of these schools are in rural areas. Access to Internet is fairly widespread but as with electricity, not always reliable. Nationally, only 17% of the population have access to electricity. 60% of primary schools have no power. Most children are without text books. Eighty per cent of children leave school functionally illiterate and with poor numeracy skills.

iSchools was set up by Mark Bennett as the CSR programme of the ISP he ran, Africonnect. After it was bought by Vodacom, he decided to take the organization independent and devote his full energies to it. Initially, it did two things: firstly, it spent time translating the secondary curriculum into eight local languages with localized audio-visual material; and secondly, it delivered this to a set of pilot schools using Intel Classmates, Wi-Fi and solid state, local servers.

When the Internet was working, the server would update itself with any new materials generated by iSchools. Whilst successful in terms of its education objectives, it had some obvious weak spots. It needed electricity all day and if someone “kicked the server by mistake” the whole system went down.

It was pretty robust but not yet robust enough. A year ago it decided to switch its delivery strategy:

“If we wanted to be able to hit the big numbers, we would be able to do so using tablets – the ZeduPad – costing under US$100 each. Sourced from China, these have a 7 inch screen and 32 GB of memory and are solar chargeable. They can work without the need for the Internet and the battery lasts for a very long time.”