SEATTLE — Technology has become key for improving access to education in remote and often underserved regions of the world. Indeed, Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, says that “technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy,” and the founder of the Epic Group learning company, Duncan Clark, calls cell phones “the single most important factor in increasing literacy on the planet.” The Internet makes educational content, including both curricula and test-taking tools, available in any setting. Below are five inventions and organizational endeavors for improving access to education.
1. Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Schools for Africa.
The 25-year-old nonprofit, Vodafone, offers a program providing the hardware necessary for tablet-based teaching — including 25 tablets with educational software, a laptop, projector, speaker and modem — to schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The program designs its curricula to match each country’s standards and aims to alleviate the cost of implementing educational infrastructure like textbooks and reference books even in areas with unreliable electricity and Internet connection. Currently, the organization provides this educational infrastructure to 15,000 students in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee settlement.
2. Uncharted Play’s Soccket.
This initiative started as a class project at Harvard while currently operating out of Harlem in New York City, Uncharted Play has developed a soccer ball that uses movement to generate energy, which it stores in a rechargeable lithium ion battery.
Uncharted Play has also developed a jump rope, called Pulse, that also charges a battery as it’s used. The jump rope can be adjusted to any length up to 10 feet. Both toys simultaneously promote physical activity and provide renewable energy for small devices.
3. MPOWRD’s Luci Light.
For the 1.3 billion people across the globe living without electricity, and for those who have only intermittent access to this commodity, devices like Luci Light can help light up daily tasks. Luci collects solar energy, is small enough to fit the palm of the hand, and lights up for up to 12 hours at a time.
The corporation also sells the device in more affluent countries, for camping and other outdoor activities, as a way to lower manufacturing costs and make the product more reasonably priced for people in lower income countries. Luci can help students navigate daily commutes to school, and allow students to work and read after the sun goes down.
4. e-Assessment Platform for Exam Evaluation.
Some schools, like the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, have adopted exam evaluation software like e-Assessment, which records student answers to be sent to grading centers electronically. The system is intended to standardize grading, prevent students’ responses from being lost in transit, and cut shipping costs. The platform can be used anywhere with Internet connection, which makes it an especially useful tool for providing accessible education in a variety of contexts.
5. Educational software like E-Books for Khmer.
E-Books for Khmer, distributed by the Thun Thean Seska company, aims to improve literacy rates in Cambodia, in the Khmer language. The World Bank reports that 25 percent of early primary school students do not meet the proficiency standard; to remedy this, the software developed for second and third-grade students includes interactive presentations and student assessments for instructors to review.
– Madeline Reding