Access to education is still a major problem in many African nations despite efforts to tackle the learning deficit in the region.
Of all regions, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion. Statistics by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) highlights that 1 in 5 children of primary school age is out of school. Besides, more-than-half (58%) of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school.
Sub-Saharan Africa is also witnessing rapid growth in smartphone adoption. Today, more than 23% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to a smartphone. According to a GSMA estimates, this number will rise to 39% in the next five years.
Meanwhile, learning levels among children who are in school are abysmal. Schools are overcrowded, teachers are either insufficient or absent most of the days and the syllabus is so poor children are going through years of zero value-added schooling. It is a worrying situation that risks separating Africa from the rest of the world in terms of educational opportunities.
To bridge this education gap, one Zimbabwean AI expert has created an open-source technology to improve access to education through smartphones in Africa. His name is William Sachiti and the open-source AI tool he has created is called “Trees of Knowledge.
Trees of Knowledge
Trees of Knowledge is free-to-develop technology that uses a tree or rural landmark to broadcast a wifi connection providing access to a pre-loaded package of educational content. The wireless connection and content come from a micro-computer mounted into the landmark to protect it from theft or damage.
“One of the challenges in providing education through smartphones is that, while many people have access to a basic smartphone of some description, in many areas 3G coverage is still patchy,” said Sachiti.
“The data costs are high for most people and in rural areas keeping the phones charged is a problem when there is limited or no electricity.”
Trees of Knowledge aims to address all these challenges by providing a simple and cost-free solution to education. It allows users to access the content free of charge through their mobile devices. As long as the device is wi-fi enabled and within a 100m radius to the micro-computers, they will be able to pre-loaded educational content such as videos at any time.
The technology uses a basic computer like the Raspberry Pi computers which have been used in refugee camps in Lebanon by UNICEF as part of its Raspberry Pi for Learning initiative. The micro-computers run on solar power equivalent of a small rechargeable battery and can function continuously for years without maintenance.
Collective effort to education rethinking
Sachiti believes that Africa’s burgeoning tech ecosystem can play a vital role in rethinking education systems in Africa. Sachiti said:
“While many programmes already exist to fix this problem, it is still not enough. With the growth of the developer community in Africa, I believe we have the opportunity to simply release the technology and let local communities build it themselves. If this technology reaches one or two more children, then I feel it would be a success.”