It Takes An E-reader To Educate A Child

Millennium Development Goal 2 Achieve Primary EducationThis is part of our year-long series “Millennium Development Goals Tech Roadmap”

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Target 2A: To ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

The results for this goal have been uneven so far.  As of 2013, literacy rates were growing among both adults and youth, and the gender gap is narrowing.  Primary school enrollment in developing countries reached 90 percent in 2010.  However, even after four years of primary education, approximately 250 million children worldwide still can’t read or write.  The rate of children leaving school early hasn’t really changed either.  In 2011 about 25 percent of children dropped out of school before their last grade of primary school.

There are a myriad of reasons for why children are out of school, ranging from poor infrastructure, lack of teacher skills and financial resources.  Some analysts believe that the standstill in reducing the number of out-of-school children is due in part to reduced international aid for basic education in 2011, which fell for the first time since 2002.  Extreme poverty, gender politics and place of residence continues to keep children out of school.  Even in wealthier households, girls are more likely to be out of school than boys.  Approximately 123 million young people aged 15 to 24 lack basic reading and writing skills.  About 61 percent of them are girls.  Distance is a major problem, as many children have to travel miles each way to attend classes.  Also, the cost of attending school, such as uniforms, tuition, exam fees and other required school protocols can be a major barrier for poor families.

With this said, technology has played a transformative role in shrinking the education gap among the world’s poor.  However, access to technology generally correlates with access to electricity and connectivity.  While developing countries accounts for 82 percent of the world’s population, these countries only consume 46 percent of the planet’s electricity supply.  This number is expected to grow by 61 percent by 2035.  Also, internet access still only reaches only the few, but over the last ten years the access growth rate in the developing world is actually going at a faster rate than in developed countries.

Mobile devices have been a game changer throughout the developing world.  Mobile phones are the second most commonly used communications tools used for education right behind radio.  Approximately 70 percent of people in the developing world have mobile phone subscriptions.  Through m-learning, or mobile phone learning, students can now send, receive and download educational materials and connect with their teachers and classmates on their devices.  Teachers also use mobiles and cloud computing to connect with other teachers to share and learn about other educational best practices.  As the cost of mobile phones goes down and become accessible to more people, m-learning has a promising future.

E-readers, tablets and small laptops have presented the opportunity to give students instant access to current information and replace out of date textbooks.  One Laptop Per Child has led the way for providing children with accessible computers for education, despite criticism about its effectiveness.  Aakash generated immediate praise for its $38 tablet, although there are still questions about its reliabilityWorldreader has had the most success with delivering e-readers to impoverished children and improving their learning opportunities.  Unlike tablet PCs like an iPad or an Android, basic e-readers have less features and are generally more cost efficient.  E-readers are specifically designed to download and store dozens of newspapers, magazines, books and other reading materials.  Teachers can easily upload their entire curriculum instantly onto e-readers with a USB connection.

A wide variety of open educational resources, ranging from Khan Academy to even YouTube and Wikipedia, have opened up the limitless learning opportunities for education in developing countries.  Higher education institutions like MIT have created online resources for courses on many subjects that are free and accessible to anyone around the world.

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