Schools and education in developing countries?


I’m wondering if there’re any people here working with, or talking about, software for schools and students?

More specifically, I’m thinking about tools that connects teachers and students, with a bit focus on developing countries — so the students can ask questions, and the teacher and oher students can reply and help each other. Like, question-answers for students, when they’re stuck with their homework. Or they can discuss new courses to create, or ways to improve their school.

Or if you know about places I can visit and find such people? I might have found one: Learning Equality Community

Or if you’d be interested in having such discussions here?

welcome to the community and yes, we are certainly interested in such a discussion.

Are you currently already working on a project? If yes it would be a great way to get started if you describe it so we can start the discussion and find the people who would like to get involved.

If you do not yet have started maybe you could still give some examples or questions just a bit more in detail, (maybe half a page and add a picture if you can, that helps us to share it via our channels to find people that way).

Thank you for being here!

Hello , I am Eric and I just saw your post. I think the idea is incredible and I decided to respond because I and my team of volunteers are working to see that education in emergency zones works. I am from Cameroon , precisely from the English speaking part plagued by an armed conflicts which started in 2016 till date and given birth to more 4 million internally displaced persons. I and my partner here @trythis (Sam) have been discussing on the subject matter of improving Access of reproductive health and rights in developing countries using MP3 players. This is Innovative Education on reproductive health and psychosocial support for IDPs. It’s an education project and if you think we can collaborate, contribute or work together ,please do let @trythis know…
We will be more than happy to be inspired by your idea and learn from your project as well


@matthias :slight_smile:


Ok thanks :slight_smile: Sorry for my late reply.

Yes I am. You can see it at Talkyard is like a cross between of StackOverflow / Quora, and Reddit, and Discourse. How it can be used:

  • Students ask questions.
  • Teacher and studens post answers. (The students can help each other.)
  • If a student types a question that’s been answered already, the software directly shows the old answers; no need to ask again.
  • There’s a Disagree button, so one can tell others that an answer is incorrect.
  • Good answers surface to the top, so one finds them also if one is short of time and cannot read everything.

… After having read @gentlewest’s post above, I’m thinking there should be an “Anonymous question” feature, so students can ask about reproductive health, without feeling embarassed / possibly running into problems.

Some things I’m aware about needing help with, is:

1) To better understand life in Africa. E.g. 1A) the technical situation. I’ve undrestood that many people have an Android phone, and that iPhone is too expensive. And that sometimes network bandwidth is expensive. And barely anyone has a laptop (?) — But what Eric wrote about MP3 players made me totally confused. Until now when I’m thinking, maybe everyone cannot read? So they need to listen to the school books instead? … Maybe there’re 100 other things I don’t know :- )

And also 1B) I don’t know that much about which topics the schools teach, and in which cases a collaborative help-each-other discussion between students and teachers, makes the most sense.

2) Learning about how Talkyard’s user interface can be improved, so works betters for young students who maybe have only a low cost phone. And teachers who maybe aren’t computer savvy.

I’ll reply to Eric (@gentlewest) in a while to find out more about what they need / are hoping for :- )

Hi @KajMagnus - there are layers to what you are doing beyond the purely technical, what you are doing has social, political and geographic dimensions.

Africa, is not a country and you will find different situations and cultures depending on where you look :slight_smile: To begin with you have the question of languages…

There are probably existing projects an groups doing what you want to do, and which have an intricate set of social relationships and dynamics that have been working for quite some time. There are many stories of international development projects that come in and end up breaking more than they fix because they are not mindful of this…

So I would recommend following up with @gentlewest and you might want to talk to @thomasmboa about this. Gunnar knows a lot about commercial mobile + financial services on the continent. If you want an introduction to Gunnar let me know.

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(I have in mind English speaking countries in Africa first, and then people can translate to their local languages if they want to, or maybe I’ll find someone to do that.)

I haven’t found any good looking software that lets students ask questions and get help from each other and the teachers — except for this: … It’s also Question-Answers software, but tailored for universities. Previously, until now, I thought Piazza was only for the US. Now I just noticed apparently they’re in 90 countries. I find the founder’s story quite fascinating: Piazza • Ask. Answer. Explore. Whenever..

Eric @gentlewest I’m thinking Piazza might be something you’d like to take a look at?

Otherwise, apart from Piazza, I’ve found software mainly for school management, e.g. adding students, joining courses, doing online shoolwork quizzes etc. But not for students posting questions and the teachers and other studens helping out.

What’s on my mind is that teachers and schools create their own local communities, with their own rules and ways of working. And I’m thinking they would do that, in a way that works for their local communities and countries? — It’s open source software that people control themselves and decide how to use. I would not think of this as an external develoment project.

At the same time, yes seems like good to be aware about how social relationships and dynamics can work, … Maybe mainly so the software can be described and documented, so that teachers in various different social settings, learn how to configure it so it suites their situation. So I’ll follow up with the people you mentioned :- )

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Hi Eric @gentlewest and Sam @trythis,

Wow that sounds like an interesting project to me. If you have a website, could you post a link? (I didn’t find via your profile). … Hmm, you’re discussing about statring this project, but it doesn’t actually exist yet?

MP3 palyers? Why not mobile phones? :- )

(Can I guess? 1) Maybe not everyone can read, so spoken “classes” via MP3 players work better? Or 2) “everyone” has an MP3 player but not a phone? Or 3) simpler for you to record the classes & instructions, with MP3 players? Or 4) people tend to have neither phones nor MP3 players? But a few people do have MP3 players, so everyone can gather around someone’s MP3 player and listen all of them together? or 5) you have MP3 players which you lend to the people in the camps … sounds complicated with 4 M displaced ppl though)

What other tech have you considered? (than MP3 players?)

If you have time, maybe you’d like to have a look at If you have any thoughts about if it suites you project, or if it doesn’t and why not, would be interesting to hear.

Some thoughts / question:

  • I’m thinking the students who learn about repro health, might want to post anonymous questions? So that’s a feature I’m thinking I can add to the software I’m developing. (Assuming some of them have mobile phones.)
  • How many can read and write? (If they’ve spent maybe a large part of their life in a camp, having fled from the conflict zones, maybe they didn’t get the chance.)
  • How many of the people in your target group have phones? (Is it sth like 1 out of 100, or 1 / 10, or 5 / 10 or 9 / 10?)

yes I am thinking about one of the failure points of MITs one laptop per child project. They hadnt taken into account e.g how the dynamics change in a classroom where students suddenly had these new machines while teachers didnt have basic supplies.

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Hey @KajMagnus !

Let me answer a little from my perspective - @gentlewest may have a slightly different take on some things and will have the last word when it comes to “on the ground implementation” (while I keep proposing white elephants :wink: ).

Why mp3 players:
@nadia is correct that I had a close look at OLPC after MIT, and the student-teacher (and family!) dynamics changes were not the only thing that raised my eyebrow.
What was the last nail in the coffin for me were the amazon reviews the devices were getting. They rarely survived their warranty period in well off families in developed nations. There is no chance they would survive long enough in a large family in a struggling part of the world - perfect discipline and care or not.

The main criteria I had were two:

  1. They cost 1-2 EUR per player (and this is reflected in their ecological backpack as well). Same for their ongoing energy needs. 50 mAh will last you hours. A OLPC will go through 500 mAh in minutes.

  2. If you can understand spoken language there is virtually no learning curve. Compare this to the OLPC which was designed in a way that most function is hidden behind a literacy wall. If OLPCs were to go to the really poor, there often won’t be anything else requiring literacy around them - no books, no written posters, very few numbers - very little social proof to the promise that literacy can improve your lot in life.

Then there are a lot of additional points, for example that if you distribute literal information it is far from a given that it can spread being the direct recipients - because they would first have to make it more “spoken word” digestible.

Same with information flow in the other direction - it is generally not seen as economically feasible transcoding the messages / “voice of the poor” one would have to give to the poorest (who of course are largely illiterate).

Perhaps one more word on the dynamics:
I regard it as one potentially important feature that you can do this intervention pretty clandestinely. I.e. boko haram & co will have a hard time interfering with your learning while you are on your daily route to fetch water.
So: Yes, “classroom dynamics” play a big role - but perhaps not in the classic sense.

Also I’d like to point out in this context that this is an actual problem in the case we’re talking about. Schools have been closed down, and whole classes have been abducted from @gentlewest 's region. Without getting too political here I just wanted to say that this is not a small issue when you look at the struggling demographics, and the ones up shit creek without a paddle in a conflict zone.

In order not to incur another delay on my side, please allow me to post a raw version of the pitch we are con-currently putting together on this.

I will be happy if you can point out anything that isn’t exactly clear from this, and also follow up with more in depth explanations (hopefully more quickly):

Mother of Pearl is a scalable initiative creating critical skill sets and information
flows in a resource efficient way, where conventional approaches fail or are
not enough.

In the harshest of conditions humans rely on the spoken word.

The combination of this most ancient technology with modern audio players
and memory technology is a key enabler on a broad set of issues.
1. Affordable: Our approach uses very compact and affordable audio
players (0.8 to 2 EUR) and allows spreading accurate, up to date, and
appropriately customized information to a target audience that may be
illiterate, struggling, and remote.
2. Minimal capex, custom opex: There are no front heavy investments
such as building, staffing, and attending of conventional schools. The
syllabus can be tested, tailored, and refined to actual needs and
capabilities continuously.
3. Bootstraps out of a backpack: It can be launched with minimal logistical
demands in a crisis situation with all relevant information pre-loaded
and requires minimal management, because it is literally self-explaining.
4. Practical: Importantly the devices are compact and robust enough to be
used during housework, fieldwork, relief work, guarding, or menial tasks,
and can even be operated by pre-school age children. Unlike broadcasts
it can be re-listened and scheduled on demand. And unlike books not
light or calm .
5. Data rich: Being inherently digital this approach allows for transparency
and accountability, with little risk of misuse. With minimal overhead it
becomes possible to improve or translate content locally and allow for
extremely detailed two-way information flow, uninhibited by literacy
Once these networks are established they can relay literal information
(ebooks) with very few limitations.
6. Learn from Failure: Catastrophic failure of the devices is rare. Care,
operation, and repair familiarizes the users with key concepts of battery
care, solar charging, and electronics at minimal risk and cost.

Our pilot project aims to demonstrate viability and feasibility using (focus)
groups in Cameroon (also known as Africa in miniature).
The groups are:

  • (young) women
  • prison inmates
  • internally displaced persons
  • orphans

About the name:
Mother of Pearl, or nacre, is the result of an intricate organic process that
creates a useful, beautiful, and strong (if somewhat brittle) material from some
of nature’s most abundant substances.

It is also used to contain crises from spreading and will at times yield pearls
that rival the most rare of materials in their diverse beauty.

Regarding your questions:

(Can I guess? 1) Maybe not everyone can read, so spoken “classes” via MP3 players work better? Or 2) “everyone” has an MP3 player but not a phone? Or 3) simpler for you to record the classes & instructions, with MP3 players? Or 4) people tend to have neither phones nor MP3 players? But a few people do have MP3 players, so everyone can gather around someone’s MP3 player and listen all of them together? or 5) you have MP3 players which you lend to the people in the camps … sounds complicated with 4 M displaced ppl though

  1. Guess correctly! Also mix of education and entertainment (ideally mnemonic songs) so that various demographics can be catered to.
  2. Close. Yeah, mp3 players are affordable even by the standards of the global poor (less than 1 USD / day). Also: mp3 players are a less “fungible” bartering commodity, and prone to misuse.
  3. Absolutely! We’re actually making an effort to start up the beginning structures for the audience to start making, adapting, and improving their own material. Also, once you can do this - most of it is a very transferable skill set.
  4. Yup, this is something I haven’t gone into detail about yet, but you’re right. Where OLPC is “one laptop per child”, this is more intended to be “one mp3 player per 3 kids” (one per earphone, who explain the lecture to a third - who then gets tested). We’ll surely experiment with loudspeaker / group scenarios but the feedback is less granular in most cases, and I’d like to explore what the intimacy of the relationship can do for us e.g. in sensitive issues such as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases - where you don’t tend to want to ask a lot of detail questions, and ask for a re-run of the lecture…)
  5. Yeah - this will be a highly interesting question: How to epitomize delivery, and then “attrition / survival” of the devices, and perhaps how to optimize “self organization” (e.g. via spoken guidance) - perhaps optimized for maximizing content impact, player survival rates, repair proficiency increase, player diffusion, content diffusion, etc.
    Super interesting in my opinion! Like a little version of JRR Tolkiens ring in some way.
    And I’d posit there is only one way to find this out: do it.

Dear @trythis, thanks for the great contribution and collaboration on the “Wisdom of Pearls” MP3 project on reproductive Health which has as main objectives to increase access to reproductive health knowledge and rights especially to young girls and other vulnerable groups of young people. It should be noted here that before the armed conflicts in English speaking parts of Cameroon, the target groups which our project is targeting were once school going people. And yes they can read,write, understand and speak the English language , because i and my dedicated team of volunteers in Cameroon in the region hard hit by the armed conflicts, had done a rapid needs assessment to over 1000 internally displaced persons to understand their suffering, pains and analyse their deplorable conditions.
So, since the separatist have issued warnings for schools not to take place, we realized that many violations on gender based violence such as denial of resources, wrong and doubtful information on sex education, sexual violence, stigma for girls menstruating was very common and we were moved to come up with an innovative way of empowering these vulnerable groups and their parents on correct and systematic information on comprehensive sexuality education which will help them to make informed decisions.
This project will help to break myths surrounding menstruation, puberty, engage boys to be supportive and understanding especially during periods where girls and menstruating in a bit to curb stigma and as well as inspire parent children discussion on Sex education back at homes which is the main factor for menstruation to be popularized as a taboo. I personally believe that “All women were once girls, but not all girls will have the opportunity to become women”, if they are not empowered to make informed choices.
Again, the armed conflicts have been going on for about 3 years now and presently there are no camps or urban displacement centers for Internally displaced Persons (IDPs) so most of them are in the homes of friends, relatives or living in abandoned buildings just to have a roof over their head.
So the idea therefore, of the MP3 players with spoken word contents on reproductive health is an innovation I and @trythis have worked tirelessly and effortlessly to inspire a new way of learning which is cost effective, exciting, inspiring and fun. This way, we will be able to carry the MP3 players to other locations, after we are done with other target groups. This will defeat the conventional ways of holding information events, workshops and seminars .
We intend to make this project a mobile one which other vulnerable groups in rural and peri-urban areas will be able to benefit from it and be empowered as well.

FYI:… After carrying out needs assessment from IDP’s, we discovered a whole new ways to intervene to save lives , give hope and restore their faith in humanity. In the nearest future, we will be carrying out a distribution project to assist internally displaced Persons of Food items and non food items.
The other thing which we plan to do is on Education in Emergencies (EIE) and we are hoping to use the renewable concept of solar lamps to inspire learning among displaced families and their kids .
We already have the big idea help people not only in Cameroon, but in other countries affected by natural disasters or armed conflicts around the World under the Banner of … “Mother Of Pearls”
I think @trythis has more details on that. We are very open for any suggestions, criticisms and proposals.

Dear Nadia, i have keenly followed up the interesting discussions here and first of all, thank you for your interest in our topic and project. We will be glad if you could link us up to Gunnar , that will be much appreciated. Specifically, our project is targeting the English speaking audiences and we are planning to scale up and reach participants in other languages like French and others. This project will address and innovative way to learn and adapt “Education in Emergencies” via our Wisdom of Pearls MP3 project on reproductive health. The aim here is to make learning accessible, fun, exciting and memorable, because the spoken word contents will not be online, they are soon going to be on MP3 devices which @trythis has already shipped to Cameroon with SD cards and the contents have already been developed. This will be a mobile project to target orphans and vulnerable children, juveniles in prisons and Internally displaced persons.
We had already done needs assessments with the IDPs and we are seeking to address , advocate and end forms of gender based violence through this project, by:
-introducing parent children discussion on sex education which is rare
-Empower young girls with the right knowledge and information on how to manage menstruation to enable make informed decisions
-Reduce stigmatization towards girls and women by educating boys and men about menstruation
-Ending forms of Gender based violence especially rape that has occurred to many young girls during the armed conflicts who fled, perpetrated by the military and non state armed group members.
I and @trythis, will be very glad to hear your feedback and criticisms so we can make our project to achieve it’s intended impact .

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