Between poverty, corruption, under-trained teachers, and a general dearth of libraries, the land-locked West African country of Mali has an educational system which hardly deserves the name. Mali’s neighbors hardly recognize its HS diploma, and it is entirely possible for a student to graduate with a master’s degree without ever having owned a novel of their own.
It is that environment which gave rise to the MALebooks project.
This project seeks to distribute ereaders packed with reading material to young Malians. It’s still in the very early stages, but a total of 42 ereaders have been given away since September 2014.
In addition to the French-language version of Wikipedia, each unit contains over 4,000 ebooks, including public domain titles (both education books and novels), free ebooks, and titles contributed by authors.
From a technical perspective, this is a very simple project. Each ereader comes with a 32GB microSD card and a solar panel so it can be charged even in areas where power is intermittent.
And as for the content, we’ve been able to put a copy of Wikipedia on an ereader since at least 2008, and the only real constraint with loading thousands of ebooks on an ereader is that many have a file system which cannot handle the load.
The MALebook project is using ereaders from Bookeen. If Bookeen’s software can function with that many titles loaded than they are worth the high price (there are cheaper options).
The ereaders have been distributed as part of a 6-month-long pilot which is intended to test whether the ereaders will fill the need. During the pilot the MALebook project will ask participants to record data on which ebooks are read, and by whom. They’ll be trying to find out who use the ereaders, when are they used the most, how easy is it to access the ebook library, and so on.
At the end of the pilot the MALebook project will collect the observational data and use it to judge the effectiveness of the program. Both the results and the raw data will be published later this year.