Narrative of a Partnership: Open Source Hardware in Uganda

Every year, UNICEF sends out millions of School-in-a-Box kits for children affected by emergencies. Exercise books, slates, pencils, rulers, and other learning materials enable a teacher and up to 80 students, taught in double shifts of 40, to create an instant classroom – no matter where they are. Originally designed for refugees following the Rwanda crisis of 1994, School-in-a-Box has become the hallmark of UNICEF response in disasters. Twenty years later, in the era of Information Technology, UNICEF is pioneering a new type of digital School-in-a-Box.

MobiStation, developed by UNICEF Uganda, is a solar-powered multimedia kit complete with a laptop, projector, scanner, and speakers, all contained in a portable suitcase. It works by projecting e-books, teaching videos, and other multimedia content in rural schools and health centers, bringing quality learning to marginalized groups. The educational content for MobiStation is developed and recorded by the country’s top teachers in subjects like English, math, social studies, and science.

Uganda, 2013. MobiStation is a solar-powered multimedia kit complete with a laptop, projector, scanner, and speakers, all contained in a portable suitcase. Photo credit: Sara Jacobs, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

Uganda, 2013. MobiStation is a solar-powered multimedia kit complete with a laptop, projector, scanner, and speakers, all contained in a portable suitcase. Photo credit: Sara Jacobs, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

In Uganda, MobiStation addresses some of the biggest challenges of the education system: teacher absenteeism, poor-quality instruction, and lack of textbooks. MobiStation also has significant implications for emergency: it can be taken to affected areas to setup a temporary school or communication center, even in places lacking electricity and Internet connection.

To develop the next generation of MobiStation prototypes, UNICEF recently launched an innovative partnership with a leading Chinese IT company, Honghe Technology Group, which specializes in multimedia audiovisual products and research. MobiStation and the partnership with Honghe were featured at last month’s Global Innovation Workshop in Kosovo, with representation from over 20 Country Offices around the world.

In line with UNICEF’s core innovation principles, all MobiStation technical specifications and testing results will be publicly available for individuals or enterprises to use or adapt according to their needs. This partnership model, where the public and private sectors are working together on open source technology, brings us one step closer to ensuring that children have access to quality education anytime, anywhere.

Written by Mima Stojanovic (UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ, mstojanovic(at)unicef.org) with contribution from Stefan Bock (UNICEF Uganda, sbock(at)unicef.org).

Related reading:

Open source “Mobi-Station” research collaboration

CNN reports on Uganda Innovation Lab – Video

Mobi-Station (Digital School-in-a-Box) and RapidFTR on IRIN

Innovations in emergencies reporting from the Philippines – First 6 days

2 responses to “Narrative of a Partnership: Open Source Hardware in Uganda

  1. Love that you all have put together computer-based learning tools. The set up looks like it would solve a number of educational issues, but it would certainly not solve the real human ones – namely the need for motivated and trained teachers, attentive students, engaged parents, and a supportive administrative infrastructure.

    A collection of technology tools, no matter how comprehensive, is not a school – in a box or otherwise. Please do not fall into that trap as others have: http://www.ictworks.org/2011/11/11/not-school-box/ As the next logical step would be to say we don’t need teachers, we could just give a laptop to every child and expect miracles to happen. And we all know how that fallacy ends.

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