In a fairly turbulent week for telecoms, there has at least been one encouraging piece of telecommunications news: an education-linked story from Zimbabwe – or rather from a Zimbabwean AI expert.
William Sachiti, Zimbabwe-born CEO of UK-based technology institute the Academy of Robotics has published an open-source technology known as ‘Trees of Knowledge’ to improve access to education through smartphones in Africa.
This free-to-develop technology enables a tree or rural landmark to broadcast a WiFi connection, providing access to a pre-loaded package of educational content. The WiFi connection and content come from a micro-computer moulded into the landmark to protect it from theft or damage.
Anyone within a (roughly) 100m radius can then access the content on any mobile device free of charge. Users can also charge their phone by plugging it into the accompanying solar-powered battery charging station.
Nor is power an issue. The micro-computers will run on the power equivalent of a small rechargeable battery and can run for years without maintenance. All the user needs is a WiFi-enabled device such as a phone, tablet, laptop or computer. There is no need for the phone to be connected to a carrier or any network provider, removing the issue of expensive data charges.
The technology uses a basic computer like the Raspberry Pi but it’s the smartphone that is the key. In a continent where millions of young people are out of school the rapid growth in smartphone adoption could offer an alternative source of education.
The pre-loaded educational content is likely to be largely video-based and would be free to access by anyone at any time. While the system can work with existing educational content packages, ultimately Sachiti hopes that content can also come from local educators.