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iQube™: Accelerating Literacy and Education at the Base of the Pyramid by Riding the One Tablet Per Child (OTPC) Phenomenon

Computer-based interactive digital media technologies provide, for the first time in human history, a key ingredient missing so far in the educational system: personalized interactive learning, with consistency and scalability. And in places where the Internet is accessible, the computer is the gateway to the digital library of the world, and the catalyst for teacher and student dialogs beyond the walls of a single class or school. Today, a major effort is being invested in the transformation of education, where learners are becoming active discoverers and builders of knowledge, with the computer playing a critical role in this transformation, including Computer-based Interactive Learning, Simulation and Exploration, Collaborative Learning, and Pedagogical Management.

Meanwhile, the world of computing is at a crossroads. The primary computer for most users today is not a PC; it's a phone. While the PC sits on a desk at the office or on a coffee table at home, smart-phones go everywhere with us and integrate into every facet of our lives. But with the introduction of iPad from Apple in April 2010, the age of the tablet has arrived. In the coming years, we are bound to see an astounding array of new tablets, including offerings from every major computer and phone maker, in many different sizes and form-factors.  The new devices promise some fantastic new opportunities.  In education for example, not only will tablets (with e-books) replace the use of paper-based text books (a trend that has started already), but a device like tablet with wireless connectivity foreshadows a new form and potentially much more powerful way of learning – interactive real-time collaborative & personalized learning, on the go – anytime, anywhere. These opportunities portend not just for the developed countries – but the biggest impact in education-on-tablets will most likely be felt by the under-privileged children in the developing countries, where historically poor infrastructure and lack of adequate teaching resources have hampered progress in educating the masses.  With advances in new technologies and rapid commoditization thru reduction in hardware costs and economy of scale, the days of very affordable tablets costing $100 or less will soon be upon us.  The vision of “One-Laptop-Per-Child” (OLPC) – giving each child residing at the base of the pyramid an affordable computer costing $100 – is now well within sight with the new vision of “One Tablet Per Child” (OTPC).

And when children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future. As the pace of change in the world increases dramatically, the urgency to prepare all children to be full citizens of the emerging world also increases dramatically. The best preparation for children is to develop the passion for learning and the ability to learn how to learn.

The iQube™ Literacy Program – A Catalyst for Bridging the Education Divide

The WholeTree Foundation together with its education and technology partners are developing two interactive reading and literacy training programs – iQube™ Literacy Program, to be implemented on a low-cost tablet – one is more advanced that focuses on reading to learn and the other on learning to read.   For the latter, the focus is on developing phonemic awareness and skills.  It will be done in such as way as to attempt to mimic a parent reading a book to a child.

The iQube™ system highlights each word as it is being read aloud.  When the student is asked to repeat the sentence, as the student speaks the words that are pronounced correctly are highlighted.  If a student does not remember how to pronounce a word or is having difficulty, the student can click on a word and hear its pronunciation.  The program also features animation to make the story more engaging and memorable for the student.  It is the next best thing to a patient parent reading to a child to help the child learn to read.

This approach for learning to read on tablets has several advantages over the traditional approach.  In a small form factor, many more interactive books can be provided.  The cost of these e-books is near zero, which is impossible with printed books.  The e-books are environmentally sound, with an incremental cost near zero.  However, the big gain is in the effectiveness of learning to read.  The students get proper pronunciation at all times.  The process is highly interactive and engaging, providing results and motivation.  Furthermore, in capturing the student data, the system performs analytics and can help identify learning problems early on so that intervention can be made early.  This brings enormous benefits, as reading is critical to the learning process for the rest of a child’s life – and the basis of breaking out of the poverty cycle.

The Pilot
To demonstrate the efficacy and effectiveness of iQube™ Literacy Program for the developing countries, WholeTree Foundation would work with the locally-based NGOs to pilot the program using low-cost tablets, by selecting a group of students from one of the chosen partner schools in Singapore, Cambodia or the Philippines.  In conjunction, there would be a control group of students as well.  Pre-pilot and post-pilot testing will be performed at monthly intervals for a period of four months.  We hope to demonstrate significant improvements in the reading skills of the piloting students at the end of the pilot period. University professors would then analyze the results, with a peer-reviewed paper that can then be published. 

Scaling up iQube™
When the pilot is demonstrated to be successful, WholeTree Foundation will seek in the subsequent phases to scale up the iQube™ Literacy Program across the region –working with foundations, governments, schools, and NGO partners who also wish to transform education thru technology.  The Big Audacious Goal is to be able to fully bridge the digital divide, by providing iQube™ on a tablet for every child residing at the base of the economic pyramid – potentially hundreds of millions of tablets.  This is not only a worthy cause – one that could have a truly transformative impact on literacy and education for the developing world – but one that is very much achievable in our life-time.

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