In Africa and the Middle East, many children have no access to books or the internet. Digital Schools are electronic libraries providing educational content to under-resourced schools. Our aim is to offer children access to education and thereby ensure truly equal opportunities.
By the end of 2016, 500 digital schools will be up and running in Africa and the Middle East. More than 130,000 children will be able to take advantage of the schools. To understand the project better, let’s take a look at how the idea was born.
1. The idea of the project
We have long been convinced that digital technology is a source of progress and were looking for the right concept... Having discovered the Raspberry, a small and inexpensive computer which is both powerful and tough, an idea began to form.
The only problem was how to provide educational content to the schools.
2. So many questions
How to use the Raspberry? For what target group? Where? With what content? For what program? While we had the basic idea, it was hard to work out how to use it for digital educational purposes.
3. What is the Raspberry PI?
An open-source computer that runs on Linux developed by the Raspberry foundation. It has no hard drive or fan but has several connectors (USB, HDMI, RJ45). The hard drive is replaced with an SD card. It is powerful and very cost-effective, costing around €30.
4. The burger party meeting
Sometimes the greatest progress is made at the dinner table. This time, we held a burger party. The guidelines were set: an autonomous server, a Wi-Fi hotspot for tablets or PCs, an integrated web server to present all the content, and offline usage of Wikipedia. There would be no internet connection or remote updates. We wanted to keep it simple so it could be used in all types of conditions. An update could be made at the start of every school year simply by changing the SD card.
5. Nothing can be achieved alone
The project looked attractive on paper, but alone in Paris, it was hard to get things moving. We needed to convince our colleagues abroad.
We arranged a presentation of the project at a seminar with all the countries. They were hooked. The project was launched!
6. The right equipment
At this point, the main difficulty was finding a supplier of effective and inexpensive tablets. This is when our colleagues in Beijing stepped in with a 10-inch Android tablet with a dual core processor and a decent screen. The cost of the tablet was $50 with a protective silicone cover.
To find the tablets, we looked in France, Africa and in China. The choice was a compromise between quality and cost, with the aim being to equip as many schools as possible.
7. The server
Once we had the operational guidelines in place, we had to work on the development. We opted for the Raspbian with a Nginx web server. Rather than adapting the solution, we kept the standard version to facilitate future developments. We also equipped the tablet with Kiwix-serve and KA-lite. Nothing terribly complicated. As for the educational content, we still use 128 GB SD cards to host offline Wikipedia content and French videos by Khan Academy.
8. The first local tests
Demonstrations of the kit were carried out in Cameroon and Madagascar. In conditions that were not always easy, the kit was welcomed and raised hopes among the teachers present.
9. The official launch
On 11 June 2016, the first digital school was opened in Madagascar, attended by Mireille Le Van, general secretary of the Foundation and Paul Rabary, Minister for National Education in Madagascar. Today, the island has 90 digital schools.
10. Deployment in various schools and countries
After the launch in Madagascar, several other countries received the kit for their schools. The equipment was bundled together to form a kit including two Raspberry servers, 50 tablets, a video projector and recharging equipment.
The schools were responsible for looking after the kit.
11. Use in the schools
Currently, 12 countries are part of the Digital Schools project, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In the schools, each pupil uses a tablet to follow the content chosen by the teacher, which is also projected onto a board.
The pupils and teachers alike are eager to use the digital kit, in particular the tablets. Watch the video below to find out what they have to say.