This past summer (July 2014), I became aware of LeMaker, a company that makes and provides support for open source technology. More specifically for the purposes of this post, I was interested in their Banana Pi, which is an open source, single board computer just about the size of a credit card, that can run Android or Linux. With an ARM based dual core processor and 1 GB memory, it offers more computing power than the Raspberry Pi, its famous cousin. (With even more features added, LeMaker’s newest version is called the Banana Pro.)
This organization came to my attention because they were sponsoring in-kind grants of Banana Pi’s for multiple different kinds of projects—of which education was one. We’ve been working for some time now to bring educational content to remote schools with no Internet connectivity, and the Banana Pi sparked an idea: How about developing a simple-to-use, all-in-one, solar-powered kit to enable the use of this content at remote schools with no electricity or Internet? The idea of our Digital Library all-in-one Kit was born.
I applied for an in-kind grant on LeMaker’s webpage, describing the project: 50 Banana Pis to Remote Pacific Island Schools, and in the next month, I found out that they were interested, and were going to support the project! They sent me the hardware (Banana Pi’s, as well as cases), and I set about brainstorming how to make this project a reality at Cal Poly, where I would start working in the next month. The previous post showcases the initial steps we’ve taken on the project, and I’ll be reporting on the ongoing work in future posts.
In December 2014, we had the opportunity to meet two of the Founders, Leo Liu and Ivy Yao from LeMaker, while in Hong Kong. They were kind enough to travel from their office in Shenzhen to meet with us. (Here’s a picture of breathtakingly beautiful Hong Kong.)
We spoke about the project and our (mutual) excitement for it, but what really struck me was our mutual passion for harnessing technology to improve opportunities for children around the world who happen to have been born into resource-constrained conditions.
During our conversation, I learned how passionate they are about the “Maker” movement, and their belief—with which I wholeheartedly agree—that having technology and physical spaces that promote creativity and innovation is one of the best ways to promote this mindset among (young) people across the globe. In many places around the world, education emphasizes rote learning and memorization and is not an experience that promotes creativity, innovation, teamwork, or all the skills and mindsets we believe will be the hallmarks of successful economies and “information and innovation societies” in the future. Maker spaces can be places that do promote such activities. So, even though we work toward making the educational experience more modernized around the world, this process won’t be easy and will take time.
Images below: Here are some fun things that can be done with a Banana Pi or Banana Pro: It can be used as a traditional computer; as a server, as the “brains” for a remote controlled car…endless possibilities!
In a similar way, we know about the benefits that access to information and the ability to communicate, via the Internet, can have in the educational context, yet Internet connectivity will not become a reality for a long time for many, many resource-constrained schools around the globe, even though we may be working toward that reality. In the meantime therefore, we are working towards ways to develop the “skills of the future” related to information (searching, acquiring, assessing) and knowledge creation and sharing: in other words, cultivating Internet-ready skills before the Internet arrives.
So, we’re working to develop an offline solution that provides educational content in an environment that replicates an online environment. We’re working to deploy this first iteration of our Solar Powered Digital Library all-in-one Kit at 50 remote, unconnected Pacific Island schools. I’ll be writing more about that exciting work in future posts, so stay tuned!