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 Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Whether it's learning how to read and write or setting up your own farm, a Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.

The brain child of British tech entrepreneur Mark Bennett, the ZEduPad principally teaches users basic numeracy and literacy skills, aimed at primary school children. "It became clear that there was a huge need for this kind of technology", Bennett said, "particularly tablet technology, which has come a long way in Africa in recent years".

After arriving in Zambia 30 years ago under the British Aid Program, Bennett worked in the computer department at the country's national university for over a decade before deciding to go it alone.

We can really do something very major for the first time", he said. "We've invested about $5 million to date... It's totally all-encompassing and quite prescriptive so we are aiming at being able to get to an untrained teacher in a deep rural area in the African bush".

The ZEduPad is programmed in eight different languages native to Zambia with over 12,000 preloaded classes and lesson plans for untrained teachers in rural areas, according to Bennett.

Approved by the Zambian Ministry of Education, the educational tablet allows children to create a personal profile on its seven-inch screen to keep track of their progress as well as exposing them to e-mail and Wikipedia.

Bennett said the ZEduPad is set up to teach grades one to seven through interactive learning in every subject from math to PE, art and music. The technology comes at a time when Zambia's educational system is undergoing sweeping changes. Since 2001, the government has increased primary school enrollment rates by 90%. As a result, the World Bank has identified the landlocked southern African nation as having one of the most improved primary school education systems in the developing world.

Bennett added: "For years there was a problem with funding, education was not keeping up with population growth. Young people coming out of school and not being well suited or prepared to enter the job market.... We're trying to change that".

The ZEduPad gives children a grasp of vital technology skills in a landlocked country where broadband is scarce and only 18% of the nation's 14 million people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

In addition to following the national curriculum, the tablet also contains farming and health information designed for adults to help prevent the spread of killer diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria.

(Source: CNN)