Tanzania 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: E-READERS

E-Readers offer revolutionary ways to boost literacy in Tanzania.

On May 10, 2013, the Hon. Mizengo Peter Pinda (MP), the Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania, officially launched the Nambala and Nganana E-Reader Project. The program is aimed at addressing a book shortage and the yawning affordability gap that hampers Tanzania's rural grade schools. Following Upendo School in Arusha, Nambala and Nganana were the second and third to adopt the devices, capable of storing 2,000 books apiece.

The program is the result of collaboration between the Arusha Ecoblab Program at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) and Worldreader, a US- and Spain-based non-profit. Together, the partners secured funds from two donors to raise enough money to bring 350 e-readers and 36,000 e-books into remote parts of Tanzania.

Prior to the E-Reader Project, the school in Nambala and Nganana had no access to books, and students learned to read by the rote method on a blackboard. Now, 29 teachers have been trained on how to use the gadgets.

“I am going to assign this as a top priority at the national level, and put the Worldreader program into the school I am re-building in my own community," said Prime Minister Mizengo Peter Pinda at the launch. “The cost of e-readers and e-books cannot be compared to the much larger cost of having another generation of illiterate and semi-literate children."

The Worldreader organization, founded in Barcelona but now with offices in San Francisco and Accra, Ghana, came from the idea that Kindles might be more practical than books in Sub-Saharan African schools.

“E-readers can have an even bigger impact in the developing world than in the developed one, because the need is so great and costs are coming down so quickly," according to David Risher, Worldreader's Co-founder and CEO. “I hope this happens, much the same way that cell phones have leapfrogged landlines across much of the planet."

Besides lowering the cost barrier for traditional books, studies funded by USAID show that e-readers boost test scores across the board among grade-school students. Worldreader's own studies found that scores increased by 4.8% to 7.6% when schools had e-readers, compared to control groups that did not.

Worldreader, as well as companies like Zoop, a Tanzanian-based technology start-up, are now exploring options to offer solar-based devices. This will help overcome the lack of electrical access, a problem faced by the majority of rural schools in Tanzania.

Partner organization NM-AIST is one in a network of pan-African technology institutes, the brainchild of Nelson Mandela in his desire to train the continent's next generation of scientists, engineers, and innovators. The Nambala and Nganana E-Reader Project falls under the umbrella of the Institute's Arusha Ecolab, which is aimed at integrating research and innovation within public-private partnership in the Arusha region.