As Liberian schools remain closed, tablets could become digital classroom


Schools in Liberia have been closed since July as the country has confronted a deadly Ebola outbreak that, so far, has killed nearly 3,000 people.

With 1.4 million school-aged children currently without access to education, tech developer Rumie is hoping to help kids continue their schooling by sending 200 low-cost tablets to Liberia. It's a relatively small number. But the people behind the Rumie Initiative believe that those 200 tablets could help as many as 2,000 people.

Rumie is part of an effort to bring digital education to Liberia. Cellcom, one of the country's major wireless providers, is working to provide learning tools on mobile devices, free of data charges, according to Forbes. Global literacy nonprofit Worldreader has also made an app that Liberian children can use to read electronic textbooks.

Rumie is set to launch a $10,000 Indiegogo campaign on Monday to send the tablets to Liberia. For $50, a child will get a tablet that comes loaded with educational games and textbooks. While the tablets aren't necessarily state-of-the-art, what's important is that they're simple to use and cheap.

"Affordability is the most important thing," Tariq Fancy, the founder and CEO of Rumie, told Mashable.

"Once you present the community with something that's cheaper, better, faster than the existing alternative, they'll go straight to that."

"Once you present the community with something that's cheaper, better, faster than the existing alternative, they'll go straight to that."

While about 69% of Liberians have access to mobile phones, just 50% have mobile web connectivity, according to the Forbes report. But Rumie insists that its tablets have a place in the Ebola-stricken country because the devices come loaded with age-appropriate education content that doesn't require a constant Internet connection.

There will be challenges, of course, like making sure kids have access to power to charge the tablets, but students can update learning content by connecting to the Internet just once a month, Fancy said.

The education system in Liberia was already shaky even before the Ebola outbreak: The country's civil war didn't end until 2003, and a stable learning environment wasn't possible until then.

Back in July, Rumie sent some of its low-cost tablets to Camp for Peace, a Liberian education organization. The tablets were supposed to be used as part of a rehabilitation program for former child soldiers, but the devices arrived right as classrooms in Liberia shuttered. Students ended up using the tablets to learn math, science and English.

According to the company, the education program using the tablets eventually grew to reach hundreds of children in the area.

"It was not intended to be a response to Ebola," Fancy said. "That just happened. The portable nature actually adds a lot of value in situations like this."

He added that 100% of all donations go toward getting Liberian kids tablets. The startup is backed by investors who are covering the overhead.

While the initial campaign is a response to Ebola in Liberia, Fancy said that he hopes to expand into other regions and causes. For example, girls in high-conflict countries where education for females is controversial could learn at home, he said.

Source: Mashable 20 November 2014