HARARE, ZIMBABWE — In a country with a severe textbook shortage, could a high-tech tablet be the key to helping children graduate from school?
Prince Nelson, a software developer, has no doubts.
“Our products have a ready market,” he says.
Nelson is CEO and marketing director of Avantis Technologies, which is manufacturing tablets that have the potential to be pre-loaded with educational content for use by teachers and students. The tablets can use both electrical and solar power, so they’re useful even in areas with frequent power cuts or where electricity isn’t available at all.
So far, 30,000 tablets have been manufactured in China, Nelson says, but the company is also planning a production facility in Zimbabwe.
“Ever since I was a child, I have always had a passion to create something that people can use and add value to their lives,” he says.
Connecting students in Zimbabwe with the resources they need is a complicated task. On average, urban schools have just one book for every 10 students, says Sifiso Ndlovu, who leads the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association. In rural schools, 15 students share a single book, he adds.
Access to tablets for students across the country also fits well with Zimbabwe’s freshly revised curriculum, which emphasizes technology and computer sciences.
The government welcomes Nelson’s tablets, with a caveat.
“Anything that enables e-learning is welcome,” says Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Paul Mavima, but adds that whatever product is used, it should be sustainable over a long period of time.
Even if the tablets don’t wind up being common in classrooms, there is a demand for them for private use.
Veronica Chifana says she bought a tablet for her 7-year-old daughter. It has been useful in teaching her basic computer skills, she says.
“I use the tablet to look for tutorials on YouTube that are for children and other sites that have educational information for her age,” she says.
Nelson says his company, formed in 2015, has supplied the tablets to nursery, primary and high schools. The company hopes to find a rural school that it can adopt and provide with free tablets, he says.
For paying customers, each tablet costs $170, but schools that buy in bulk will get a 15-percent discount, Nelson says.
He argues that the price is a good deal for Zimbabwean schools and students. Similar, generic tablets sell for $300, he says.
So far, he says, the company has sold about 5,000 tablets.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.