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|Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 ||
A Tablet of Knowledge
Bridging the technology-illiteracy gap
Hajira, a student of class five of Moishal Para of Nizmawna village in Gazipur, is both excited and nervous when she is handed the 'Amadeyr Tablet', a touch-screen electronic device. It is smaller in size than a netbook and comes with a bright blue plastic cover. She presses the 'power' button and the screen lights up. A homepage with pictures of Hajira's family shows up. As soon as she places her finger on her picture, another page opens up with her picture in a corner and next to it a list of topics that might interest her. Hajira, who is the eldest daughter of her family, having two younger brothers neither of whom are old enough to go to school, has not seen anything like this in her life, forget be able to use one. But she is now the proud owner of one and surprisingly, uses it quite easily.
“This is your page and profile, all the information here is exclusively for you,” explains Salma, a volunteer of Amadeyr Cloud, trained to provide support to the local people of her village on the use and maintenance of the tablet. In the next few hours a hundred more houses will be equipped with this revolutionary 'tablet' that will hopefully change their lives for the better thanks to Amadeyr Cloud Limited (ACL).
ACL is a self-funded private organisation, which has come up with a simple but ingenious technology that transfers information and knowledge to both illiterate and literate people, so that they may gain and use information to make day to day life decisions. The touch-screen electronic tablets called Amadeyr Tablet are provided free of charge and distributed with the hopes that they will help bridge the digital and literacy divide and maximise information efficiency.
Imran Ali, one of the directors of ACL, says, “Nowadays technology is not as intimidating as it was a few years ago; look at how easily people use mobile phones. And that is why we have chosen to use this technology for development as a way forward.”
ACL has programmed the tablets with over 25 hours of audio/visual contents in the areas of (but not exclusive to) education, health, agriculture and general public services. ACL has also developed and copyrighted various applications, like the 'Okkhor' application, which teaches the user the Bengali alphabet by having them pass their finger over the letters. When the correct letter is selected, it turns green and an audio signal or cue is given. Sabina, a housewife through the use of the 'Okkhor' application now knows to write her name in Bengali “It is quite easy to use if you are interested,” she says.
Ali explains the motive of this particular project by saying, “In Bangladesh, the most productive part of the population is aged between 25-60 years and unfortunately a large number of them are illiterate. Therefore it is necessary to find some way of giving them access to information that is not hindered by the illiteracy wall. That way they are not left out or pulled back.”
A volunteer group, One Degree Initiative, has been assisting ACL in its endeavours by sending their youth to train people and distribute the tablets to homes in the village. Masud Khan, another director of ACL, says, “Local volunteers of ALC like Salma will eventually be hired into the organisation as it expands.”
The Amadeyr Tablet's network is supported by Wireless Mess Networks (WMN) located in the village. It is set up in such a way that villagers can access the ACL Intranet and download content from the Amadeyr Cloud as far as 150 metres away from the hub, which is the first cloud server developed in the country. The tablets run on Google's Android operating system and have been specifically designed and customised by ACL for use by people who cannot read or write. The audio and visual contents were mostly developed by the ACL team in conjunction with their partners, Infokosh/A2I, and with some technical support from BRAC University.
When someone uses the tablet, the content is accessed by the team at the network base and an information loop is created from the Amadeyr Cloud network base to the Amadeyr Tablet user and back, thus a complete information delivery system like that of the registered mail is established. By counting the number of clicks, instant usage behavioural information of those who use the network is collected and then the contents are customised and uploaded onto the Amadeyr Cloud tablet. This model of information delivery, pioneered by ACL, has been named the Amadeyr Delivery System (ADS).
Under the initial pilot, Amadeyr Tablet was distributed to 126 households in Nizmawna village, Gazipur, just outside the capital. The second deployment was also at Nizmawna village among another 100 households. The second deployment introduced more interesting applications like Amadeyr Slate, which is a communication, instruction and Technology Enabled Pedagogical Tool (TEPT), a virtual slate on which whatever is drawn on it can be shared with the other tablets and just like a real slate, the writing or drawings on it can be cleared by pressing the 'clear' button it is erased. The slate is said to be the most popular application among the children in the village.
Other applications such as the Amadeyr Market is used to enable direct sales of local produce to urban households so farmers can from their homes put up a price and quantity for their produce and find a buyer through the network.
Masud Khan adds that, “The contents have so far been divided into Education, Agriculture, Health care and General Information (which included videos on Women's rights, Vocational trainings, government services etc). Pdf versions of text books extending to class-III are available in the education section and the inclusion of higher class text books will be provided on demand.”
In order to understand if the project will be successful, a four-month pilot project by ACL called 'Digits to All' was set up. The pilot demonstrated the effectiveness of the Amadeyr Delivery System (ADS). Before the pilot, an independent survey company, Eminence, was hired to conduct a base-line and an end-line survey. The results, coupled with the user usage monitored at the server level (in terms of clicks), confirmed its effectiveness.
One of the most viewed subfolders is 'Women's Rights'. Notably, the participating households have not only viewed the information but have used what they learnt from the tablet. During a recent visit by Amadeyr Cloud staff, villagers participating in the project proudly showed the organic fertiliser that they had made and were selling using local resources that they had learnt about from the tablet.
Masud Khan says, “So far it is partly funded by Bangladesh Foundation, however, to be distributed on a larger scale we would require greater assistance from larger development projects and organisations.” One of the limitations could be the fact that electricity is not available everywhere. On that note, he explains that the tablet comes with portable chargers that may be charged where mobiles are charged and can be beneficial to the user, even if used only for an hour a day. “The tablet also runs on batteries so this problem can be worked around” he says.
Young Hajira is busy using the tablet, delicately pressing the screen with her fingers. She seems to be interested in the subject of history. She is reading about Hason Raja and, to her pleasant surprise, finds that there are even songs to listen to. The use of such technology in every household is a dream that is in the process of being realised, thanks to the efforts of Amadeyr Cloud. Such an initiative should be encouraged not only because it is working to improve illiteracy but also because it encourages the youth to volunteer and work for the country's development.
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