When one thinks of the economics of digital publishing, one probably ponders the cheaper costs and streamlined procedures of publishing new e-books, magazines, newspapers and associated digital media peripherals, etc.
But, there is another side to digital publishing economics — one that can put an inexhaustible library at the fingertips of a poor child in Uganda who is just waiting to be awakened to the wonders of reading 🙂
An E-Reader Revolution for Africa?
Schools in developing countries are experimenting with digital books; endless titles, spotty electricity
It is time for a vocabulary lesson in Bernard Opio’s sixth-form class at the Humble Primary School in Mukono, Uganda. One new word the students have already learned this year is “Kindle.”
Mr. Opio instructs them to pull out their Amazon.com Kindle e-reading devices. Within seconds, most of the teenagers have a digital Oxford English Dictionary open on their screens. “It took the kids just a few days to learn how to use them,” says Mr. Opio.
The Humble School, which serves needy children in a part of Africa ravaged by poverty and HIV, is on the front lines of an effort to reinvent developing world literacy programs with technology. The premise is that the new economics of digital publishing might make more and better books available in classrooms like Mr. Opio’s.
“Instead of just having 1,000 books, they have 10 times or 100 times that,” says David Risher, co-founder of a San Francisco-based nonprofit called Worldreader that is leading the experiment in Uganda and two other African countries.
A vision of “one Kindle per child” for developing countries faces considerable challenges, including the cost of e-readers and making sure that kids actually learn better on the devices than with old-fashioned books. Africa is littered with well-intentioned technology programs that fail because devices don’t get used, fall into the wrong hands or just can’t find enough power to run.
An ongoing project called One Laptop Per Child, which started in 2005 with the goal of creating Internet-connected laptops for educating kids in the developing world, spent $30 million to make its own laptop with a long battery life. The group has sold more than two million laptops, today priced at $185 each, but it has run into competition from commercial computer makers as well as criticism of its mission amid the basic needs of people in the Third World. It is now working on developing a laptop with a tabletlike touch screen.
Early results at Worldreader are promising, says Mr. Risher, 46, a former Amazon executive who has raised about $1.5 million for his two-year-old program from foundations, individual donors like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishers and Amazon itself. It has distributed 1,100 Kindles and 180,000 e-books to kids and teachers in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.