Zimbabwean AI expert’s open-source technology to improve access to education

AI robotics treeZimbabwean artificial intelligence (AI) expert William Sachiti, CEO of the UK’s start-up Academy of Robotics has published an open-source technology ‘Trees of Knowledge’ to improve access to education through smartphones in Africa

This technology, free-to-develop, aims to enable a tree or rural landmark to broadcast a wi-fi connection, providing access to a pre-loaded package of educational content.

Anyone within around 100m radius can access the content on a mobile device free-of-charge. Additionally, the users can charge their phone by plugging it into the accompanying solar-powered battery charging station.

According to the Academy of Robotics, the micro-computers will run on the power equivalent of a small rechargeable battery and can run for years without maintenance. The user needs a wifi-enabled device such as a phone, tablet, laptop or computer. The phone needs not to be connected to a carrier or any network provider, thus removing costly data charges.

The technology uses a basic computer like the Raspberry Pi computers which have been used in refugee camps in Lebanon by UNICEF as part of its Raspberry Pi for Learning initiative.

Globally 258 million children out of school

According to UNESCO’s Education Progress report, the problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa where the population of primary-school-aged children has doubled since 1990. One in five children of primary school age is out of school.

However, sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing rapid growth in smartphone adoption. More than 23 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to a smartphone –a number which the GSMA estimates to rise to 39 per cent in the next five years.

Trees of Knowledge set to improve access to education

Sachiti explained, “One of the challenges in providing education through smartphones is that, while many people have access to a basic smartphone of some description, in many areas 3G coverage is still patchy. The data costs are high for most people and in rural areas keeping the phones charged is a problem when there is limited or no electricity. Trees of Knowledge aims to address all these challenges.”

Sachiti further added, “There is an urgent need to improve access to education for these children. For many children, their classes are taught gathered under the shade of a large tree, so ‘Trees of Knowledge’ seemed a natural technical extension of this existing system.”

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