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Worldreader Kits: eBooks in a Box for Hungry Young Minds

By Wayan Vota on July 22, 2013

Worldreader is one of my favorite organizations. They truly understand the needs of teachers and students in schools across Africa and work hard to bring relevant, engaging, and local content to students in the form of ebooks on Amazon Kindles.

But don’t think they’re just sending a set of Americentric novels. In addition to Western and North American reference material, Worldreader has Ghanaian and Kenyan storybooks, readers and novels across all age ranges; Ghanaian textbooks from primary to senior high school; and texts, storybooks and readers in Twi, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Kikuyu, Dhoulo. Check out their library here.
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And don’t think you have to wait in vain for Worldreader to come to your favorite school or library. With the launch of Worldreader Kits, you can bring the power of reading to children you care about today.

Worldreader Kits contains e-readers for up to three classrooms loaded with local and international e-books, ruggedized cases, and lights. I’m really happy to see that Worldreader Kits also include comprehensive training program, manuals, quick start guide, launch planning tool, student reward kit, and community outreach guide to help local schools implement Worldreader programs anywhere. That’s a bargain for $10,000!

Don’t take my word for it. Watch their uplifting video and order your Kit now.

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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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10 Comments to “Worldreader Kits: eBooks in a Box for Hungry Young Minds”

  1. Bornwell says:

    Very good idea but certainly not for African schools. US$ 10,000 is the cost of a 3 by 1 classroom block which is a fully fledged community school. I would not in e-readers at that cost. A cheaper option is to use cheap Android tablets which retail for between US$ 100 and US$ 150 and load the with OER material.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Bornwell, you miss the whole benefit of Worldreader – the educational materials. Anyone can hand out cheap Android tablets and they’ll have the same impact as handing out Playstations.

      Only Worldreader will have you handing out ereaders packed with ebooks, textbooks, and reference books that are tailored to the national curriculum, along with a comprehensive training program for teachers to be able to use that content in the classroom. That alone is worth way more than $10K.

  2. Pat Hall says:

    I agree with Bornwell, $194 to $250 this is really expensive. I compare this with the cost of the OLPC X0 which can also be used as an eReader but can do a lot lot more. In Nepal the OLEN project distributes a digital library on local servers around the country, with content which can be downloaded to the OLPCs and other devices.

    Of course the content available on these WorldReader devices is wonderful, but it should be given away or sold (if they really must) at a really low cost. The key issue is to have some non-proprietary format that can be picked up by a large range of devices, such as the Android readers suggested by Bornwell.

    Bornwell’s comparison with building a new school is well made, This is an argument that colleagues and I made against OLPCs in Nepal, but we lost that one, at least in part..

    • Wayan Vota says:

      How can you even compare OLPC to Worldreader? OLPCs are $200+ each, if you can get them. Remember, they only sell to governments. If you want 50, you have to eBay for each XO laptop. And if you can get them, its just an empty laptop. OLPC doesn’t supply any local content or teacher pedagogy. Just buggy software that still doesn’t work right.

      • Pat Hall says:

        This is a price comparison for a rival but older platform. Clearly they are still available, because OLEN is procuring them. Content is another matter, but OLEN now has plenty for use in Nepal.

        But the real issue has to be whether special hardware should be being considered at all. What matters is the content, and if suitably encoded it should be viewable on a wide range of platforms.

        Hardware developers in the north should not be making a living out of poor education-hungry communities in the global south.

        • Wayan Vota says:

          Pat,

          OLENepal is still buying XO laptops from OLPC because OLPC is willing to sell laptops to them – or OLE Nepal will use netbooks as they went with software that runs in the browser and can be used on any device. But neither you nor I can buy 50 or 100 for our favorite school. Its eBay unless OLPC blesses your cause.

          Worldreader is rumored to be developing (or already developed) a mobile app that can be used with feature phones to get content. We can both agree that this is suboptimal compared to a dedicated eReader for user experience but that’s a way to scale past hardware.

          As to making money while doing good, sustainability requires cash flows and this model is designed for us “rich” Northerners buying hardware for the south. And did you know that part of Worldreader’s efforts are to get global south authors’ books into digital format and distributed (some as sales even) to the north and south?

          • Ziggymar says:

            @Ryan– Worldreader has already developed ‘Worldreader mobile app” in partnership with BiNu, Australia App dev. The app run on most andriod ‘feature’ phones. Based on recent stats, there has been over 500k users who have downloaded the app, as well as books using their phones. In Africa, the highest users are Nigeria and most active users are women.

            Concerning the price of e-readers, (kindle) especially the tequila version, it is still expensive and it costs at retail price between $70-100. Of course, the most important thing is about the content, but if your mode of delivery, which is the kindle is costly, and given that the average people in Africa makes less than $2 per day, then there will be challenge for Worldreader to scale up their program. They can counter that the phones can be used to deliver contents, but they can’t be effectively used in classroom settings.

            There are other less expensive tablets in the market such as Aakash tablets that can be used to deliver books. But the question is whether the Kindle and Amazon content management, such as Whispercast is better than the others in the market.

            The way forward is for a company to build cheaper tablets with better content and delivery management that can be used to deliver books and content to people in Africa that can afford.

          • Zev Lowe says:

            Thanks, Wayan, for this article, and thank you all for the thought-provoking discussion. Bornwell, Pat, and Wayan: you all bring up some great points. Cost, content, and hardware are all things that Worldreader cares about a great deal.

            Books cost money — the average cost of a paper textbook, across 11 African countries, is $8.75 (DFID, 2011, quoted in Abadzi, Print Poverty, Information Starvation, and Textbook Sustainability). On a recent trip to Zambia, a 200-page short story collection of Caine Prize Winners (a literary award for African writing) cost me $30. Once a classroom block is built, it needs to be stocked with teaching and learning materials — a paper textbook set in Uganda costs $155.19, and that’s only for one grade level, before any reference materials or storybooks are included.

            Worldreader Kits include 100 books per device. We include books with the hardware because fundamentally, we are a reading organization — reading is the what, technology is just the how. We work with teachers to come up with book lists that include the textbooks that students need, as well as the books that will get kids to fall in love with reading.

            We work with over 40 African publishers to make sure kids have access to local and local language books. Kids read more when the books they have access to are culturally familiar. Our African books are deeply discounted in our programs, figuring in at about $1 per book. This provides a sustainable revenue stream for writers and publishers, while making books accessible at a lower price than before. We also partner with global giants in publishing (e.g. Random House and Simon & Schuster), who allow us to make some of their best selling titles like the Magic Tree House series available for free to kids in our programs.

            The hardware that we use in Worldreader Kits is getting cheaper, and as Moore’s law continues to take effect, the cost of a Worldreader Kit will come down accordingly. As we grow, we are having conversations with our publishing partners about what content pricing might look like at a larger scale.

            Worldreader is also open to working on many devices. As Wayan and Ziggymar mentioned, Worldreader has half a million users every month who read using Worldreader Mobile, designed in partnership with biNu as a way for people to read on devices they already own, e.g. Java-based feature phones and Android phones and tablets. We are currently partnering with UNESCO and Nokia to study the habits and preferences of mobile readers in seven countries .

            Pat, if you have a program in mind that could benefit from Worldreader’s range of content, please do get in touch with us. We’re deeply committed to making sure that kids and their families have the books they need to improve their lives.

            Zev Lowe
            Director of Research and Business Development
            Worldreader

  3. Pat Hall says:

    Good comment and update, thanks. Yes, one component of the way forward is to have cheaper tablets, but aimed at mass worldwide markets to get the economies of scale and price reductions of a competitive market. Remember India’s Simputer ?- a nice idea but too focused and not able to compete with the competitive drive from the north.

    But the other component must be content format standards so that the same content can be viewed on a range of devices, proprietary formats are just not acceptable.

    And of course Wayan’s last point, that we need to care about the authors and their ability to create a living from their writing also holds, and the danger there is the same as for music and other digital materials, we need a different economic model, an alternative to royalties based on sales.

    • Ziggymar says:

      @ Pat, Worldreader has some sort of profit-sharing agreement with the Publishers and they receive some funds based on the demand of their contents.

      The Kit program that Wayan mentioned is a separate program that Worldreader runs and it is geared towards organization, private and other institutions that are interested in replicating WR program.

      The majority of cost for Kit program is not about the price of Kindle and profit-sharing with the Publisher. But it is more about the back-end stuff, such as processing and formatting contents, purchasing accessories (lamps, cover etc), shipping of devices, training managers and other miscellaenous expenses. This is what drive the price of the Kit program.

      Worldreader (WR) also runs another separate programs that are funded by USAID, World Vision etc, but are mostly deployed to the rural and deprived areas. These program are going well because they are being funded by the big guys. But they are not sustabile and can’t be scaled up and deploy to the critical masses without the intervention from the government, World Bank, device manufactures, mobile operators and other stakeholder that can come together to streamline the whole eco-system of delivering contents that are relevant to the people. This is the challenge facing WR — bringing all these parties on board to make things happen!

      I agree that for the masses to benefit, the content should not only be restricted and limited to mobi (Kindle format), but other standard formats such as e-pub, where it can be viewed on range of devices.