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Stuart Taylor
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Access to education

13 June 2014, 12:01

There is little doubt that the most effective and sustainable way to alleviate poverty and empower people is through education. We need to embrace technology and explore alternative ways of delivering quality education to people of all ages and backgrounds.

The Internet is an obvious choice, but only a small percent of South African households have Internet access. Most people access the Internet using their cellphones, but the many of these handsets are inadequate for viewing educational courses, and cellular data is still very expensive.

Accessible Education

I propose developing touchscreen kiosks, where anyone can access a library of free educational video courses, load them onto a USB flash drive or wireless device, and watch them without the need for an Internet connection.

These kiosks can be found anywhere and everywhere, from schools to shops to transport stations. New and updated courses are downloaded daily via an Internet connection. They also provide WIFI hotspots, making them a valuable alternative to using regular modems in public establishments.

Once a video course is loaded onto a flash drive, it can be viewed on any computer. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of South Africans own computers. They are expensive and have a higher learning curve when compared to something like a television set, which over 60 percent of households already have.

A solution is to develop a media player that can plug into any television or monitor and play videos directly from a flash drive. A handheld media player, with a built-in display, provides a way to watch educational videos on the go. These devices, as well as USB 3.0 flash drives, can be sold at very affordable prices at any participating store.

All progress is captured and stored on the flash drive, providing a seamless user experience across multiple devices. An optional online profile can be automatically updated when the flash drive is inserted back into a kiosk.

Educational Content

Courses are distributed in a variety of South African languages and are organised according to subject and level of difficulty. Each course is composed of modules, which are further divided into chapters. Each chapter contains a short video, covering a specific topic, and notes, tests and exercises are included with every module.

Choosing what to study is easy! Browse through the library of courses available, or choose a subject or career and receive a dynamically generated curriculum. To get a better idea of what to study, simply load one or more of the introduction modules included with every course and category. A detailed course catalog is also available on the flash drive.

Online Network

People and organisations from around the world can collaborate and contribute to educational courses through an online network. They can also post details about available jobs, internships, and bursaries, as well as educational institutions, programs, and events. Anyone can access these listings from a kiosk, browse through them, and then apply using their online profile.

Companies could sponsor and even develop educational courses, as long as their branding does not interfere or detract from the quality of the course. The best approach is to seamlessly integrate branding into the content. For example, using a particular brand of tools in a carpentry course.

To keep the course library lean and clutter free, courses should avoid overlapping and repeating the same material. It would also motivate contributors to produce quality content, in multiple languages, covering a broader range of subjects. The course library needs to be built from the base up, starting at the beginner level, then progressively moving onto more advanced courses.

Narrated footage and animation is probably the best medium, providing consistency when videos are dubbed into other languages. To conserve disk space, videos will be distributed in standard definition (480p) inside a container format (AVI), allowing playback with audio in many languages.

Educational video courses could also be distributed using WIFI towers or existing cellular networks. Access to educational content could be free and charges would only apply for regular Internet usage. The principle still remains the same, to develop and distribute free educational video courses to people of all ages and backgrounds, using affordable, accessible and user-friendly technology.

I’ve posted conceptual designs of these devices on News24. If you would like to get a better idea about video courses, check out edX, Grovo, Udemy, and Lynda. 

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