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Education Handhelds Hardware

Open Source Replacing Books in Kenyan Schools 170

Posted by Zonk
from the only-in-kenya dept.
ickoonite writes "The BBC is reporting that wi-fi enabled Pocket PCs running open source software are being used as digital textbooks in classrooms in Kenya, where 'real' books are hard to come by. The story says that the scheme, in its trial stages, currently only affects 54 pupils, but all of them are enthralled by the devices - unsurprising in a country where electricity is a scarce commodity. The article does not make it clear what is running on the Pocket PCs, but this seems a wonderful example of how the free and open spirit of open source can make a real difference." A follow-up to a story from March.
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Open Source Replacing Books in Kenyan Schools

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  • I wonder how much of the success of this program is based on the fact that there is lack of knowledge about these devices (and subsequently, how to go about breaking them), with electronics being a scarce commodity at all. Perhaps there is also a greater personal responsibility and respect for these educational opportunities, which is reinforced by the culture too.

    I hope that these electronic books work out better than they tend to in more "civilized" countries like the US.
  • Cool for today, but what about tomorrow when all the newfangled gizmos are broken?
    • Amen to that. Reminds me of a quote I read somewhere, probably here on /.:

      "A map with a bullet hole through it is still a map. A GPS with a bullet through it is a paperweight."

      In a country where "electricity is scarce" I'd rather have a paper book, where if part of it is damaged the rest of it is still usable. Sure, it's more difficult (i.e., you're better to make a completely new one) to change the content of a physical book, but the book has a much higher robustness factor. For instance, think about wh

      • Africa is also an incredibly harsh continent. There is an old joke about an experiment with 3 canon balls, 3 people of different cultural backgrounds and a hermit cell in a monastery. One of the test subjects managed to break one ball and lose another - I rather won't recant the story here, but there is lot of truth in it... ;-)
  • by ComputerSherpa (813913) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @01:39PM (#13223986) Homepage
    Does it seem to anyone that squabbling over the operating system these devices are running is a little pointless? Step back and look at this for a second: A bunch of Kenyan kids have just been given a really big gift. That's really cool. Let it be.
    • Except closed source OSes tend to cost money, I'm guessing the main factor that let this be (and its a real good thing(tm)) is the fact that its running free software, which can be customized to the situation, and is obviously much cheaper than buying the WindowsCE licenses...
    • How is it missing the point? Did you read the part of the article that mentioned the open source nature of it? "They are wi-fi enabled and run on licence-free open source software to keep costs down." The only reason they recieved this gift is because people allowed their software to be freely used and distributed. That is the point.
    • Don't look a gift horse in the kernel.
    • The devices run Linux, not Microsoft Pocket PC. The BBC corrected the article very rapidly.
  • Now, if we can manage some open-source food, perhaps we can actually feel better about ourselves with regards to sub-saharan Africa.
    • Feeding the head is as important as feeding the body. Greater education leads to greater abilities and self esteem, which leads not only to employability but the self-awareness to demand fair wages. When this happens, it (hopefully) leads to a cascade effect across the society, increasing standards of living.

      If I recall my African Studies classes correctly, hunger in sub-Saharan Africa is due to poor transportation infrastructure, and also is used as a weapon. Famine, created by regimes to control a di
      • I think the problem you recall from your classes is a small subset of a larger problem.

        Nations in Africa undergoing economic difficulty often have decent supplies of natural resources and ariable land. The problem is that the rule of law is very much dead in several countries, whose barbaric warlords steal and pillage from hardworking people. When taken for all they have, there's very little incentive to start over. The successful ones are stolen from, so why be successful? Without the rule of law in effect
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The teachers said they don't have electricity to charge them, they break too easily, are too complicated.

    The minister said it was a wasted test not suited to his country.

    The engineer said books can fall in puddles too, (as though that breaks a book) and in future they would make them with more rubber so less likely to break. He also seemed to think books can only be used once whereas these can be used again and again....

    If we don't use them in the west why would they want them in the third world?
    • If we don't use them in the west why would they want them in the third world?

      Because to deploy something new in a region that doesn't have much in the way of an existing infrastructure is easier than trying change a deeply rooted society. Further, given they don't have much in the way of text books to begin with they are the most likely people to accept pocketpc books in lue of regular books as something is always better than nothing.

      Further... have you ever tried to ship books? Books are huge, heavy, bul
  • You know MS calls their Portable OS PocketPC. So my guess is that they run PocketPC2003, by Microsoft
    • Microsoft has never called their portable OS "PocketPC". A long time ago, it was "Windows for Pocket PCs", but the current version is "Windows Mobile 2003".
      • Be sure to e-mail 2001-2002 and let them know not to put "Microsoft(R) Pocket PC" on iPaqs' About screen. It's clearly an alternate title for CE 3.0, used by Microsoft.
  • ...you can't eat a Pocket PC.

    Well, I guess you could...
  • Hmmm... They don't have the ultra low-tech basics, so we replace them with relatively hi-tech, high maintenance substitutes... Why not just spend the money on textbooks, which rarely break or get BSODs.
    • I wonder if there's some reason that books aren't as easily obtainable. Perhaps shipping things into the area is very expensive, and a textbook (or, more likely, a set of several textbooks on different subjects) would weigh a lot more and be a lot bigger than a single PDA, and thus cost a lot more to ship. It's also possible that books have to be replaced often there for some reason (they get used for kindling, insects eat them, it's hard to keep them safe from the rain, whatever), so a PDA might have a l
    • buying 100 textbooks would cost A LOT more than buying one pocket PC and loading 100 free e-books.
      as for textbooks rarely breaking, that is where my 9th grade Spanish teacher and I never saw eye to eye.
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @01:43PM (#13224020)

    From TFS:
    The BBC is reporting that wi-fi enabled Pocket PCs running open source software are being used as digital textbooks in classrooms in Kenya, where 'real' books are hard to come by.
    So real books are difficult to obtain, but Pocket PCs are plentiful?

    Looks like I need to take a trip to Kenya with a couple suitcases full of books...I smell a trading opportunity here.. ^_^

    • actually they mentioned in the program that books where approx £100+ per year per student so the eSlates where actually cheaper to run (power came from solar) presumably they got a deal for bulk purchasing from HP on the iPaqs (plus its good PR for HP)

      • You can print a 300 page textbook for 10pounds without any problem, too (if you dont need fancy printing quality..). And that would give 10 books per student and year that will still be there the year after...
    • I think the real oppurtunity is to open up a pawn shop next to the school where they can trade their pda's for food and guns.
    • So real books are difficult to obtain, but Pocket PCs are plentiful?
      Uh- not to be sarcastic, or insult you (you are excused if you are in high school and don't have to buy books)- but did you go to college? We are talking textbooks, not Penguin Classics. I have bought many $90-$250 textbooks for school back when. Textbooks used in grade school classes are also very pricey. More than E-books. Plus, textbooks are not as useful after a few years (some subjects more than others), so with e books thay can be
      • I know what you're saying. But what really pissed me off was that I could get the exact same information as in a $100+ textbook from a publisher that charged $40+. Think I'm full of shit? Well compare your typical programming textbook that you'd have to buy in a CS program with a book from O'Reilly. Yeah, yeah, it's not a "CS" textbook, but the information is identical. And any other information thatmay be needed would be a great research project for the students - free from the InterNet.

        AND I'm sure ther

        • Well compare your typical programming textbook that you'd have to buy in a CS program with a book from O'Reilly.

          I had an O'Reilly book [oreilly.com] for a college course [unm.edu] (Fall 1999 -- David Ackley [unm.edu] is the best professor I've ever had).
        • Yes, there is.
          I live in Uruguay, and textbooks are cheaper here than there.
          Seems that you pay for it. RTAC is a program financed by the US government to print spanish translated US textbooks, and distributing them very cheaply throughout spanish speaking countries of América.
          Computer Networks, by AST is $80 new, on Amazon.com.
          You can buy it here for around $30, new, in spanish, financed by the US government.

          In the old times, it was called cultural imperialism (let's give them our books, before the comm
      • The world is not the US, and in other countries, textbooks arent rediciously overpriced...
        (i know it for fact from physics, where the most expensive book i bought was the Tipler (which was about 90$ equivalent, for 1200 pages in Din A4). Most textbooks are between 50-70Euro.
        • The world isn't the US? Golly Gee, if I had a decent textbook, I might have known that knowledge. Sarcasm aside, you and I have no reason to disagree. YOu say a typical textbook for you is 50-70 Euros.... A Euro is about $1.22 US, so that 70 Euro book is roughly what, 80$ or so US... (Is the 50-70Euro price including any taxes?) That is about the cost of a decent PDA here... PDA= multiple textbooks (if the content is donated, which it would be- How can you say no to those skinny kids). Seems much cheaper fo
        • So the question here is, why does that book cost $90? Sure, it's a big book, but so is Cryptonomicon, and I picked that up for under $20, and could pick up a paperback of it for under $10. I would posit that there are three reasons for that $70 difference.

          First, there are probably a lot more man-hours of work researching, writing, and checking the average textbook. Not to say that Neal doesn't do a great job, but the fact density of a textbook is (or should be) very high.

          Second, economies of scale are se
        • Dude, in developing countries, books which have to be imported from overseas are more expensive than they are in the countries where they are printed. So take the most horrendously overpriced textbook you can think of which was printed in your country. In an African country, it probably costs twice as much.

          Book prices are ludicrous in South Africa, which is considerably better off than other Sub-Saharan African countries - even the prices of mass-produced popular novels, which are probably imported in h

    • IT's the NGOs. Read this book:

      Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers [amazon.com]. The liberal types will not like him and neither will the conservative types, but he does have some interesting opservations.

      -Fucker

    • From my experience of Kenya is probably means that someone somewhere is getting a kickback on the Pocket PCs'
  • Real books are hard to come by...but wifi-enabeled Pocket PCs are easy? I'm all for technology applications, but a book is a fraction of the cost of a PDA (yes, even a textbook) - and more durable, too.
    • Yup, woulda been really purty if those WiFi adaptors had a 10,000km range...
    • Real books are hard to come by...but wifi-enabeled Pocket PCs are easy? I'm all for technology applications, but a book is a fraction of the cost of a PDA (yes, even a textbook) - and more durable, too.

      When textbooks are 100-300 USD a piece and PDAs are 100-700 USD I can see where it might be preferrable to go with an inexpensive PDA if you have a good way of getting the material to put on it.
      • How the hell is a textbook $100??
        This is not college material. I'll write them some damn algebra textbooks for $10 each, christ.
      • When textbooks are 100-300 USD a piece and PDAs are 100-700 USD I can see where it might be preferrable to go with an inexpensive PDA if you have a good way of getting the material to put on it.

        Um, it's the last bit that's the kicker though.

        Textbooks are not expensive because the raw materials are expensive, they're expensive because the publishers know they can charge a lot, as they have a captive audience.

        If the people in charge of textbooks in Kenya can come up with the material, the cost of printing it
    • A few years ago (while still in college) I got a used Jornada 820 for $50 and a used wireless card for $15 (I use it primarily as a portal term; it's lighter than a "real" laptop, with better battery life and still a full keyboard). ONE of my textbooks cost me $190 that semester (had to have the new edition too, grumblegrumble).

      In short, I believe it. Haven't RTFA, but I'm sure they're not using $1,000 PDAs.

    • Yes, ONE textbook is cheaper than a PDA. But 2-3 and you've passed the margin. The big deal here is that these Pocket PC's can hold far more knowledge than a single textbook, and the cost becomes more and more beneficial as more e-books are added.
  • but will it work? I work at an international relief NGO and supplying textbooks has always been a huge barrier for education in Africa. Maybe this will be a key test for open source in developing countries. An issue with developing countries and free services is that often these poor people will sell the "gifts" on a black market or steal someone else's in order to get food and water.

    Maybe a way to end this would be for Microsoft to patent the taking of free goods and services and reselling them for p
  • Wha? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by daeley (126313) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @01:46PM (#13224046) Homepage
    I'm as big a fan of open source as the next geek, but I'm not sure the connection between open-source software and book replacement is really clear. Buy the units, and they come with an OS and (probably) reader software. It sounds like the title here should be "Technology Aiding Literacy in Kenyan Schools."
    • read the article. "They are wi-fi enabled and run on licence-free open source software to keep costs down." The kenyans are obviously not buying the handhelds. The open-source is helping the company supply as many hnadhelds as possible.
    • Perhaps they mean that the texts are open source as opposed to the technology dislaying them. I didn't see a mention either way in the article when I skimmed it though.
    • I'm as big a fan of open source as the next geek, but I'm not sure the connection between open-source software and book replacement is really clear.

      Textbooks are expensive. Open source software is cheap. Pocket PC hardware costs as much as one or two textbooks, so if you can replace a whole bookshelf with a Pocket PC, that's quite an accomplishment. Paying for software to run on it would double the price.
      • by john82 (68332)
        The last time I looked, textbooks did not have the same reliability problems as a PocketPC. Drop a book, scratch the cover, or step on it. It's still readable. And you can't beat it for power consumption or battery life.

        How does a PDA compare?

        Using a PocketPC does not make sense in the referenced environment. I don't think people really have a feel for the support system required. It's just taken for granted.
  • This is nothing but MS doing "humanitarian" work to gain even more exposure. This is like giving out sports cars because they're short a few bicycles. All the world sees is "Look dear, something is improving. Microsoft did that."
    • Nice attempt at an MS stab, but these are using Linux. I don't expect, however, to see another post from you stating " This is nothing but Linux doing 'humanitarian' work to gain even more exposure."
  • In related news, a suspicious looking man was arrested earlier this morning after parking himself in front of a man's hut. Local police report it as the first known case of wardrving in Kenya.
  • from eduvision's site [eduvision.or.ke]:

    The eSlates are the end-user terminals of EELS, used by both teachers and students. An eSlate is Linux-based tablet computer, modified to survive in the technologically risky environment that is primary and secondary education. The tablets come in the same form-factor as a current textbook, and have a user-interface custom-designed for computer novices. Data input is done through a stylus on a touch-screen, using a combination of tapping and handwriting recognition. In addition, the

  • these PDA's are quickly filled with "open source" copies of Harry Potter 1-6.
  • Wonderful, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pomo monster (873962) on Tuesday August 02, 2005 @01:53PM (#13224115)
    It's definitely cool that children in developing nations are using computers to improve their prospects, but too often in these sorts of discussions the notion is advanced that computers (and the internet) are just what developing nations need, as regards technology.

    In fact, a much better investment is in mobile phones and mobile networks. Even the cheapest handsets encourage kids to learn to read and write, not to mention gain proficiency in handling technology. At the same time, adults can use mobile phones to find employment, find affordable goods, negotiate deals, conduct business. Mobile phones integrate themselves into daily life much more easily than PCs, and their impact is thus felt much faster and wider. If the free flow of information enables a market to work efficiently, then what better technology to kickstart the economy than mobile phones?

    Here are a few articles with the hard numbers pitting mobile phones against PCs.
    http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0712-rhett_butler.ht ml [mongabay.com]
    http://usinfo.state.gov/af/Archive/2005/May/17-488 286.html [state.gov]
    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory .cfm?Story_ID=3742817 [economist.com]
    http://www.economist.com/business/displayStory.cfm ?story_id=4157618 [economist.com]

    While it's certainly heartening that open source software is having a positive effect in poverty-stricken Africa, it's also important for aidgivers to note that dollar for dollar, computers aren't the best use of limited funds.
    • In fact, a much better investment is in mobile phones and mobile networks. Even the cheapest handsets encourage kids to learn to read and write

      U R SO RITE

    • I live in Tanzania, just south of the Kenyan border, but from frequent visits to Kenya it appears to me that the situation with technology is even more advanced there. Here, the GSM mobile phone network is already very developed, better in many ways than the US one (better rates, no contracts/lock-in). Mobile phone ownership is also surprisingly widespread, even making less than 25 cents an hour have mobile phones. Those who can't afford a phone can purchase a simcard and use it to send/receive SMS messa
      • Considering that Kenya's population has only 5 mobiles per 100 people [vodafone.com], I'm not so sure "every one of those 54 students' families owns at least one." If they do, you can be sure plenty of them are being shared by their entire families, many by two or more families at once, particularly in rural areas (like where this school is). A handset becomes a lot less useful when you have to share it with others--you can't take it with you to the market, you can't send or receive SMSes privately, it's a crapshoot wheth
      • Where in Tanzania do you live, exactly? I get the impression that there's a giant gap between urban and rural life in terms of access to technology and integration in the economy. Is this true in Kenya and Tanzania?
        • Where in Tanzania do you live, exactly? I get the impression that there's a giant gap between urban and rural life in terms of access to technology and integration in the economy. Is this true in Kenya and Tanzania?
          I live in Arusha, a city of around 250,000 people (though counts vary). The gap between urban and rural areas is indeed large.

          In urban areas, mobile phones are ubiquitous (housemaids and night watchmen paid $50 a month still have phones), satellite TV and internet are available, and electricity
  • My experience with WiFi enabled PDA's is that they exhaust the batteries really really fast. How long will a student be able to read before the 'Low Battery' message pops up?
  • Maybe they can use their new PDA's to surf over to halfoff.com [halfoff.com] and buy some cheap books, eh?
    • You've probably never been to a university bookstore recently. I've had to spend more than $500 each term on textbooks. I could easily get some kind of handheld for that price.

      I tried (unsuccessfully) to buy used textbooks, but the practice of publishers in recent years to issue a new edition every two years makes that impossible.
    • Maybe they can use their new PDA's to surf over to halfoff.com and buy some cheap books, eh?

      Shipping? Think $20 for a book... think $5.00 to $10 per book if shipping 17 in a single box. That's about the limit before you hit 70lbs via regular means. This is assuming the shipping company is nice enough to charge you the actual shipping cost and not special handeling fees for shipping to another country, and nice enough to put all the books you are ordering into a single box and not be charged the $20 per
  • Great, maybe they can sell it on ebay for some money for food clothing and medicine.

    Nice to see governments thinking of the children. Yeah right...

    Next up on the voting block: Bill 235, Giving gold rolexes to homeless people who lack wristwatches.
    • The more you send them free food, the more you damage their agriculture industry.

      The more you send them clothes, the more jobs you take from their tailors and textile workers.

      They don't need handouts, they need real economic reform, and education has to be at the center of that.

      The world doesn't need welfare nations.
      • The more you send them free food, the more you damage their agriculture industry.
        The more you send them clothes, the more jobs you take from their tailors and textile workers.
        They don't need handouts, they need real economic reform, and education has to be at the center of that.
        The world doesn't need welfare nations.


        The more you send them medicine, the more you damage their pharmaceutical industry?

        Tough love doesn't help anyone during a famine or epidemic. It just gives people like you an excuse to be sel
  • Ummm...that's great and all, but where are they getting the E-books? I know that there are free ebooks out there, but aren't most specialised texts sold for money? And protected by DRM? Where are they getting these from?
    • I would hope they and their teachers are writing the books, with local references and stuff they really need.
      Once one book is written, with electronic books, everyone can share it. Try doing that with dead trees. That is why Kenya needs eBooks, rather than the equivalent number of books written by foreigners. (Which they get as well on an eBook) Also, they can start with a standard text, like a math book, and customize the word problems to fit local conditions.

      "If you know the alphabet A-M, you can t
  • Are those books opensource too, you can have the software for windows or linux (or any other), but the content of the books is another precisely copyrighted area with very little grey areas.

  • Do they run flash [weebls-stuff.com]?
  • Only in Kenya!

    Forget Norway!

    http://www.weebls-stuff.com/toons/kenya/ [weebls-stuff.com]
  • It's great that the software is free - but the devices certainly aren't and neither is the intellectual material being displayed on them. Additionally, I don't know of a single book that when you drop it on the ground, it costs $200+ to replace. It's a nice idea, but there's a reason people still prefer to read books on paper, even in the USA where such devices in schools could be commonplace. You never get a system error with a book or run out of batteries reading a book on a plane or bus. As long as t
  • I get the impression that only Eduvision can send updates to these devices. Maybe the reason they are so cheap is that they are loss leaders to get Kenyans into a vendor lock in. Could end users reflash with a new kernal for example? If it were an open system, there should be some documented protocol for updates, and a spec for the platform, and they would have mentioned it as a selling point. If it's closed, they'll keep quiet about this sort of thing, and make sure the boot rom will only load digitally si
  • by kuzb (724081)

    unsurprising in a country where electricity is a scarce commodity

    So, how were they charging them?

  • Textbooks display much more information, are far more durable, do not require power, are easier to read, and are less expensive. Considering the main issue here is cost-- especially over time-- perhaps textbooks and some food would be a better use of the money.

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