Ebook Readers and Africa- My Thoughts

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about ebook readers for Africa.  A lot of organizations seem to be jumping on board. It’s something that has been on my mind a lot.

I’m a huge advocate of education and I’m passionate about literature.  As idealistic as this may sound I believe this world would be a happier place if people had easy access to books and education, and could use that knowledge to live their dreams. So many disadvantaged people do not have access to books and it’s heartbreaking. At the small primary school near my grandfather’s house in Africa, the classrooms were so tiny and  crowded, some  with close to 100 children. I doubt they had access to proper textbooks and adequate education. The school, like all the government schools in the country, had problems with children not passing the school year and having to repeat a year. Some students would have to repeat a grade, sometimes even more than once. It was a common sight to find a 16 year old still in elementary school. It was a depressing scene for someone like me who has always attended good schools. I have never had to worry about there being a lack of stationery or schoolbooks, nor of having to repeat a school year. 
African school children
African school children

 

The charities that are sending ebook readers to Africa  believe that they might save African education. With ereaders, students are able to download textbooks and other forms of literature easily. It could definitely enrich their learning while introducing them to new technology.  It all sounds promising and I’m sure the charities’ hearts are in the right place, but is it really a good idea?

Although I don’t read many ebooks, I do see the merit of ebooks and ebook readers. I know that sending physical copies of books to Africa is very pricey, whereas ebook readers take up relatively little space. However, I wonder if ebooks are right for rural Africans. The average African is disadvantaged, no doubt about it. Electricity isn’t reliable in many areas, people live in crowded homes often under poor conditions. Also, the wi-fi that is needed to download the e-literature is generally not found in the rural areas. Where do the most disadvantaged Africans live? That’s right, in the countryside.
African countryside
African countryside
 Petty theft is a real issue, understandably so in a continent that has a lot of poor people. Personal possessions have to be guarded at all times when one is in public, and that’s not an exaggeration. I can foresee many thefts of ebook readers. Who will pay for the replacements, and also for the maintenance? The family of the child with the ereader probably won’t be able to afford to do so. Food, medicine and fuel for cooking definitely take priority over replacing an ebook reader.

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Whenever my family and I  send things to needy relatives back home, we always ask ourselves whether the items are useful and practical. Will they do more harm than good? If it’s something that requires replacements, are those replacements easily obtainable? If they are not, are we willing to supply them with the replacements?  So many things need to be taken into account; understanding the culture and the society is paramount.

 

 I have a heart for Africa, especially her vulnerable populations. There are terrible examples of foreign influences in Africa. Colonialism is a big one of course but there are others. Africa’s culture is very sensitive. Introducing new ideas have to be done carefully. It’s no use imposing Eurocentric ideas on Africa, they just won’t work.  I’m hardly what one would call tech-savvy but as a person with a Sociology background I am interested in, and concerned about,  the effect of technology on the young.  Any studies of the consequences of technology on young people have been conducted outside of Africa.  A lot of the articles I read about the impact of ereaders on African kids made it sound as though it was an experiment of sorts, nobody knows the outcome.

 

And the books that the children will read, will they be predominantly European literature?  I would hope that the ereader influx would encourage African writers to digitize, and also encourage young Africans to try their hand at writing. If ereaders can help revive the African literary scene that would be brilliant. However, in general I am quite skeptical of the impact of ereaders on young African populations. I guess only time will tell.
 
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5 thoughts on “Ebook Readers and Africa- My Thoughts

  1. I have been wondering about all of these things since reading about ereaders being sent to rural areas in other countries. I had some of the same questions about the practicality of it. Thank you for posting your thoughts and answering some of my questions.

    1. Thanks Heather! It’s been on my mind a lot. I think a lot of things are pushed on Africa when they aren’t ready. It does more damage than good. They need to fix up the infrastructure first, I believe.

      1. You’re welcome. I just finished watching those videos again – no idea how many times now – it’s hard to explain their impact.

        As for the book, thank me after you’ve read it! 🙂

        It’s not an easy read, but for someone with so many questions, it will certainly offer some new insights. It’s one of those books that you learn something new from every time you read it . . . perhaps much more relevant than 1984, but not nearly as easy to fully comprehend.

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