South African children can have a brighter future by bringing computers and educational content to rural schools in a low cost, energy efficient and sustainable manner.
Earlier this year, EWB-SA had its first Think Tank on ‘Using Technology to Transform Education’. Drawing from the incredible thoughts and ideas that were shared in the session, an initiative called Solar Powered Learning was developed. It wasn’t just formed overnight though. The EWB-SA team in conjunction with United Twenty-13 underwent the 7 – week Human Centred Design (HCD) Course for Social Innovation. The HCD course helps use the design process to create innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions for social change. The course was completed with the aim of further analysing the state of education in South Africa and how we can improve it.
Four main problems emerged from the HCD community research. The first is lack of adequate resources. Schools often don’t have the most basic necessities from desks and chairs to textbooks and learning material. The second is transfer of knowledge. Even with sufficient resources, classrooms are overcrowded and there is no time for individual attention. Thirdly is the language barrier. Learners are brought up in their mother tongue and then expected to learn and be examined in a different language. Lastly, and most importantly, is student apathy. Many learners do not have good role models and guidance and do not even realise their potential.
More than 77% of schools in South Africa do not have access to computers and 3 544 of the 24 793 schools do not have access to electricity. Whilst we have come a long way in our 20 years of democracy, the inequality is still prevalent. In order to empower oneself, a good quality education is key. This is what will break the poverty cycle.
Upon analysis of these problems, the Solar Powered Learning project came to be. Solar Powered Learning is a low cost, energy efficient and sustainable way to giving learners in rural areas access to computers and educational resources. The project makes use of Raspberry Pi computers which cost less than $40 USD, consume about 3.5 W of power and are easy to maintain. This makes it the perfect device to use in conjunction with solar power. In addition, it introduces green living to the learners from a young age.
More important than the hardware however, is the content on the computers. The learners will have access to thousands of educational videos and tutorials as well as Wikipedia pages and e-books. Programs such as Khan Academy, Numeric and Scratch will be used. All of the content will be available offline so access to the internet is not integral to the system working! By using Khan Academy as a tool, the teacher will be able to review the tutorials of the learners and identify their weak points. This will ease the work load on the teacher, allowing them more time to teach and give individual attention where it is needed.
In addition to this, we intend to set up interactive video call language lessons. This will be between the learners from a school speaking an African Language and the learners of an English speaking school trying to learn an African language. The learners from both schools will be able to help and learn from each other. It will also serve to break cultural divides and build friendships that would not have otherwise been made.
Various aspects of the project have been tested in countries around the world such as Angola, India and Ghana, but such a low cost and energy efficient solution has not yet been brought to South Africa. United Twenty-13 aims to set up the first prototype of the model at a school in Cosmo City. Cosmo city is a developing area with a community that is eager to uplift themselves. The LAN will consist of 21 Raspberry Pi computers, filled to the brim with educational content. More than 630 learners will be able to make use of the LAN every week. The learners will have everything they need to help empower themselves.
In order for the LAN to be set up, funding is needed. An appeal is made to everyone, individuals and corporates to help us raise the funds to get the prototype up and running. We are using a new method of raising funds called crowd funding. It has worked brilliantly internationally and the concept is just breaking into South Africa. It involves everyone contributing a little towards the project. Even if it is just $10 USD, with everyone’s contributions, the target can be reached. Thus far we have reached 31% of our goal ($10 500) and we have 20 days to go. A huge appeal is made to everyone to contribute online to the project in order to change the future of education in South Africa. Help youth empower themselves. Let’s give hand ups instead of hand outs.