The One Laptop per Child initiative is still beavering away (MIT pun intended) at its project of getting rugged, internet connected laptops into the hands of schoolchildren throughout the developing world, getting closer to deploying its one millionth XO computer in Peru. Meantime, there is a global movement with the somewhat more limited goal – perhaps –of distributing e-book readers to school children in the developing world.

  • Worldreader is a non-profit that was started to get e-book readers and content distributed to school children around the world. It was co-founded by David Risher, a former Amazon exec who left the company before the Kindle came out, but who presumably knows a guy at the factory, because so far they are using donated Kindles as the platform. Worldreader is currently running pilot projects in six elementary and secondary schools Ghana, giving about 300 pupils access to e-readers preloaded with textbooks and supplementary reading.

    A number of commenters on a recent story on the Worldreader project have objected that it must surely be cheaper to ship a lot of used paperbacks to schools in Ghana than to send them Kindles. Yeah, it probably is, and sure, reading something is better than reading nothing, but really, people, if the point is to help young Ghanaians grow up to be productive citizens of a functioning democracy, surely we can do better than airlifting in a bunch of old junk that couldn’t be sold at a yard sale. And anyway, once the Kindles are in place, it’s a lot easier sending ones and zeros into outlying regions than physical objects. (Which is not to say that sending ones and zeros is necessarily easy: just easier.)
  • The Indian government made a splash last year by showing a prototype of a $35 e-reader that would be manufactured in India. There has been some skepticism about achieving the price point in the near future – particularly with the announced functionality, which includes Wi-Fi and 2GB of RAM – but with US drug stores selling a $100 Android tablet it doesn’t seem completely insane.

    At this point, there is not much network impact to these reader projects – content will probably be loaded centrally. But it’s a short step from that to a requirement for connectivity to update, to pursue links, to have, in other words, a full 21st century educational experience.

See "Tablets in the Developing World: Now? Soon? Ever?"