Last week I travelled to Cape Town South Africa, to give a keynote address on “Mobile Telephony as a Development Tool” at the annual African gathering of the GSMA, a global association of the Mobile a Network Operators. In my address I spoke about some of our key initiatives, in areas like health, solar power, agriculture, and financial services (Ecocash). I used the opportunity to also launch a new initiative, this time in education, called EcoSchool.
Over the last 12 months a team, at the Econet Research and Innovation Center, (ERIC), where many of our ideas are developed, have been developing an education platform called EcoSchool. This platform allows us to collect thousands of books, used by students in African schools, colleges, and universities, as well as course material, and put them on a platform, where they can be accessed on a special, low cost tablet, we call the “EcoSchool tablet”, or even a cheap smartphone.
We have four simple objectives with the EcoSchool tablet:
• Make books and course material available, equitably for all students in a country whether they are in cities or towns;
• Drive down the cost of books and improve tuition, by empowering teachers, and lecturers with the latest tools;
• Give students access to the global materials on education, much of which is free, if only they can have access;
• Make Internet access universal, for students.
The EcoSchool tablet allows us to offer students and teachers, access to the Internet in general, at considerably lower costs, than is usually possible.
As a member of the UN Secretary General’s initiative to get business involved in finding solutions for education, I am acutely aware of three major challenges that need to be addressed, urgently:
1. More than 60m children, of school going age, are not in school, worldwide. Of these 50%, are in Africa; the vast majority of those children who are not in school, are young girls;
2. An estimated 240m child, is in school, but has no reading materials.
3. Less than 10%, of disabled children, in Africa, attend school.
The modern school as we know it, organised around classrooms with a teacher at the front, is an invention attributed to the Germans, (then known as Prussians). I have said before, “if you can see it, its subject to change”. We have to look, boldly for new ways to quickly get children into school. With regards, the EcoSchool concept, it is our plan to launch it in at least 5 African countries in the next 2 years.
I recently travelled to Nigeria, where I had the opportunity to brief President Good luck Jonathan and senior member of his administration, about the initiative. Nigeria because of its size has a very large number of ‘out of school’ children. Our initial target is university students, and then to move onto Secondary and Primary schools. Our vision on this is simple; within 10 years, every single student, and teacher, in Africa, should have access to an EcoSchool tablet or something similar.