How important could technology be for literacy in African countries? 

By: GEORGE RUSHTON


posted on: January 15th, 2020

Developing technology is changing the way people across the world are reading, in particular in developing countries where access to texts is limited. Charities and writers are working together to increase literacy and interest in books, and businesses are competing to drive prices down and keep demand high. The future is bright for African letters.

HOW DO SMARTPHONES PLAY A PART?

Smartphones in Africa are one of the main ways in which people access the internet. Internet connectivity is essential in the modern world, to do business and compete with companies both inside and outside of your own country. Models like the Tecno N3 sell for about $65 in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, with that cost expected to go down as demand for smartphones increases.

An important benefit of increased connectivity, is that a greater number of people have access to texts which previously were too expensive. Think of the cost of building a library or stocking a school with books, as opposed to buying tablets for students, on which charities can easily distribute books for free.

WHO PROVIDES READING MATERIAL?

Charities like ‘Worldreader.org’ aim to expand access to texts in the developing world. R:Ed Africa aims to do the same. Devices like Amazon’s Kindle are too expensive for the average African consumer, so it falls to charities to furnish schools with tablets so as to develop literacy rates across the continent.

It is also up to writers to allow their books to be read cheaply, or even for free. For example, Chika Unigwe, who in 2012 won the Nigeria Prize for Literature—the largest literary prize in Africa with a prize-pot of $100,000—has donated a collection of short stories to Worldreader.org. It is important that writers whom people want to read contribute.

WHICH TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS ARE THERE?

There is a market for simple devices which do simple things. Companies like Tecno do well in Africa because their models cost very little, but perform very well. Other smartphones have complex interfaces, and attempt to do too much. The average African consumer is content as long as they can chat, watch films, and listen to music, and do those things reliably. Extended battery life and durability are priorities.

Likewise, in schools, electricity can cut out, and phone lines can go down. Tablets made only for reading  do nothing but read are cheaper to make, and are attractive for their reliability. They also provide an excellent tool for writers in African languages to make their work known to sharp young readers. Should things continue as they are, the future is bright for African letters.

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