At the Lighthouse Grace Academy in Nairobi's downmarket Kwangware suburb, yellow school t-shirts carry the slogan 'To Fear God is Wisdom', but in their hands students clutch a more worldly path to knowledge- tablet computers. The hand-sized tablets are part of the 'Kio Kit', a digital classroom in a suitcase designed by local technology company BRCK. Two years ago BRCK launched the hard-wearing, brick-sized modem that works as a wifi hotspot.
Nivi Mukherjee of BRCK Education said, "The Kio Kit is a way to turn any classroom into a digital classroom. You open the box and there are 40 tablets inside, there is a BRCK inside and on the BRCK there is a Linux [open-source] server - so we can locally cache educational content, and serve it up to the tablets."
In her crowded cement-floored, tin-walled classroom with a stopped clock on the wall, a seven-year-old girl called Blessing taps away on her new tablet, learning to spell. She said, "It's fun." Blessing's teacher Josephine Boke, who has taught primary school for 12 years, said, "The kit is nicely designed for the young hands, and it's easy to use and easy to adapt to the technology. To the kids, they get excited when they are using it. It gives me an easy time as a teacher."
The tablets and the BRCK are symbiotic- the modem is fixed into a watertight, hardened-plastic wheeled suitcase which has slots for the tablets and acts as a wireless charging station for both. New digital learning materials are uploaded to the BRCK wirelessly during quiet times of the night when more bandwidth is available, and then shared with the tablets during day-time classes.
Mukherjee said, "Intermittent power, intermittent internet connectivity, those are just the realities of our infrastructure, so we have to build solutions for those realities, rather than import solutions from other places."
Priced at $5,000 (4,500 euros), the kit seems high, given the ambition to provide access to quality education to all in some of the world's poorest places. But with many schools lacking electricity, let alone facilities to teach computing, Mukherjee said, "It is not only intended for the private and donor-backed schools in which it is currently being used. We see this kit being rolled around from one classroom to the next throughout the day, throughout the week, children sharing it, having access to the kind of content and e-textbooks they wouldn't otherwise have access to. We don't think it's beyond the reach of public schools to spend $5,000 giving digital access to 400 children."
Just five primary schools and libraries are currently using the Kio Kit, but BRCK Education already has 300 pre-orders and Mukherjee is hopeful to be producing thousands each month by 2016.
In South Africa, the continent's most advanced country, Gauteng province which houses Johannesburg and Pretoria, started rolling out tablets to 375 high school pupils earlier in 2015.
The plan is to give away 17,000 tablets to pupils in their final year of high school, and swap teachers' chalkboards with smart interactive boards targeting especially the poverty-stricken township and rural schools. The tablets come with free data bundle which is active between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm. Access to social networks is blocked.