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Digitalising Textbook initiatives in Africa...But, do the costs add up?

Written by helena kazi · Tuesday 7th January 2014

A recent review by World Bank Group has highlighted the enthusiasm for digitalising text books in Africa. Education officials seeking to acquire digital teaching and learning material have come to realise that it is actually quite a challenging and complex process. The procurement processes in comparison to acquiring traditional textbooks is proving to be less cost effective.

Currently in Africa a few countries have been ambitious in wanting to roll out digital textbooks, referred to as 'teaching and learning resources and materials presented in electronic and digital formats'.

Michael Truanco (Sr. ICT & Education Specialist) for World Bank, makes a clear point about the increasing consideration of the use of free content. Where free content is being used, this means the acquisition of the content is free. But is it really free?

The costs associated with piloting small projects in order to introduce digital teaching and learning materials as a way to learn what the related costs are. There are three categories to consider, the costs related to content, the device related costs and ecosystem related cost.

Michael highlights the costs related to content which are directly related to the acquisition of content. Although post acquisition - there are other costs to consider, including vetting (for accuracy), contextualising, embedding, classifying and distribution.

Device -related costs and other costs which are related includes the end user device which digital teaching materials are viewed on, accompanied with the technical infrastructure. Further costs to consider include the repair and maintenance, replacement, upgrade and security. In order for a device to function efficiently the baseline of electricity needs to be considered. These are the direct related costs to the device, as well as costs associated to the ecosystem.

The article does not seek to dampen the initiative of digitalising content but rather highlight the need to consider the finer details in finances, which is a fundamental element within the process of this great initiative.

Previous initiatives include the World Bank in Latin America and Africa which sought to provide 'teacher generated content'. The initiative is an excellent one but the reality of digitalising textbook initiatives in Africa may need, further refining in terms of economics and overall financial costings.

The question to really ask is whether digitalising textbooks in Africa will have a greater accessibility and outcome than traditional printed format? However, as discussed to achieve this, it will come at a price? But, does the costs outweigh the outcomes?

Irrespective of the costs the overall outcome and benefit of digitalising text book initiative in Africa will have a much greater overall impact. Children and adults will be able to access mass content and learning materials in a much more accessible way. Thus, leading to a more effective and positive learning environment.

To read more on this topic please feel free to click on the article by Michael Truanco of World Bank (see link below).