Training and Development

BRCK latest plan to change education in Africa

E-education is seen to be one way to give quality learning to children across Africa and other underdeveloped regions. With e-learning, students can get access to e-books which are cheaper than physical books.

It is already working on the continent. Recently, Opera Software and Worldreader reported that they are reaching over five million readers in Africa with over 25,000 books in their digital vault.

Worldreader makes it easy for readers by populating their library through mobile web browsers that can be accessed via simple feature phones, which are popular in Africa.

Other project including Kytabu, aims to lower the price to access books by enabling a rental feature for students.

The most prolific e-learning education is E-Limu. This product provides digital books through preloaded tablets. They can embed video, audio and animation to make learning more fun. The company has already partnered with various book publishing houses in Kenya including Moran East Africa Publishers.

But all these innovations need two things for them to work properly: internet access and electricity. This is where BRCK comes in.

In a twist never seen before in the African tech ecosystem, the founder of E-Limu, Nivi Mukherjee has been appointed the president of BRCK-Education, a project that will see the device being used in learning institutions.

BRCK, a product known as the backup generator for the internet, will be used to support e-learning in Kenya and especially in places where internet connectivity and electricity are not stable.

“BRCK-Education is collaborating with a number of stakeholders in the education space to design and test its solutions aimed at revolutionising the education sector,” Mukherjee told IDG Connect ahead of the official launch of BRCK-Education in late September.

With the revamped laptop project for schools provided by the Kenyan government, BRCK education is interested in forming a partnership.

At the moment, the government has put together a cross-sector taskforce that will analyse the best way of launching e-learning in Kenya. The taskforce will also look at ways of digitising educational content. BRCK education seeks to carry such content from government and also the private sector.

“Like the BRCK device, BRCK-Education will design and deploy its solutions around the continent in partnership with governments, private schools, NGO's, Foundations and development organisations because we do recognise that this is not a task that we can undertake as BRCK alone,” Mukherjee added.

Mukherjee said that BRCK-Education is developing a content-agnostic solution which can support any HTML5 content, regardless of which publisher is behind it. The rugged device can hold up to two terabytes of information.

“Our aim is to give teachers the same kind of choice they have when they are selecting which textbook is best for their students,” she added.

BRCK education also partnered with Kenyatta University (KU) to begin a manufacturing plant to push out BRCK devices faster and in turn employ thousands of Kenyans.

“Manufacturing products allows you to design and make your solutions. Together with KU, we will work on and produce a number of devices, solutions and technologies to develop a digital education ecosystem,” Mukherjee said.

The greatest concern in introducing e-learning in Africa is the accessibility of power. The Kenyan government has made great strides in its School Electrification Program that has now seen almost 90% of schools connected to the grid.

Even so, the supply of electricity remains erratic in most rural and even urban areas in Kenya. The features of BRCK makes it the ideal device to push electricity and internet stability.

“We know that power supply in Africa can be unreliable, that’s why our devices are engineered to handle it. The BRCK has a battery and is designed to operate without power for extended periods of time, it does need to be charged from time to time, however this can be done from any power source like car batteries and solar panels,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee hailed projects that are being spearheaded by Facebook and Google to give more Africans access to the internet. Facebook’s satellite project and Google Loon projects aim to spread internet access to areas in Africa where infrastructure is still nascent.

Mukherjee did not share how many devices have been shipped so far but said from July 2014 to February 2015 they have shipped thousands of BRCK devices to 54 countries worldwide.


Additional reading:

An interview with Erik Hersman when he launched BRCK last year


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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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