The Pi-Brary Collaborative
The Pi-Brary Collaborative was created in 2013 to bring relevant, accessible, and affordable educational materials to the schools and health clinics of Rwanda. It had a two prong approach: creating small booklets called Oksbo using the ancient art of origami, and creating an off-line digital library using the new technology of a small computer called Raspbery Pi with low cost tablets.
Our institutional structure is simple. Following the model of other open source technology communities, we are individuals and organizations from a variety of backgrounds who are contributing their skills and time in the development of a variety of educational resources. The Benebikira, a Rwandan congregation of Catholic nuns, is our institutional collaborator in country; the Paraclete in South Boston hosts a web page for us. Ongoing communication for various projects is carried on via Slack and our email, and google.docs. Our name is derived from our use of the raspberry pi computer as the content server for our digital collection.
So far we have taken three approaches: one involves the ancient art of origami to create small booklets; the second involves technology – a digital collection stored on a raspberry pi server with no need for the internet, and the third is the creation of science kits using easily obtained local materials.
The various projects are being piloted in the network of primary and secondary schools and health centers administered by the Benebikira Sisters in Rwanda. This collaboration assures that the collection meets our criteria of being affordable, accessible and relevant. The hardware associated with the project will be owned by the Benebikira congregation and loaned out to their various schools and clinics for use during this pilot phase.
Summary of Projects – June 2016
Raspberry Pi Content Server
The raspberry pi is being used as the server for the repository of a vast array of open source educational content relevant to Rwanda. It will include such things as children’s picture and audio books, lesson plans, maps, video clips, reference materials, and Kahn Academy Lite. It is organized for easy access by teachers and students.
The raspberry pi server runs off a battery charger to stabilize the small fluctuations in Rwandan electrical currents. It has the capacity to broadcast over a 30 foot radius to as many as 30 computers, tablets or smart phones. It can be connected periodically to the internet for downloading new material and editing. The size of a deck of cards and costing $35, it solves the problem of schools with limited internet, electric or library resources. Its most recent update, raspberry pi 3, includes an internal dongle which solves one of the problems we were having with the easily damaged external Wi-Pi dongle. The Digiland Tablet which we have successfully used has also been updated to the Android 5 Operating System and its battery life extended to 6 hours. Still only $40 at Best Buy.
We originally had programmed our own r-pi server, but then adopted the content from World Possible called RACHEL which has a large and varied collection of educational resources. However, we found that much of its content was not being used by the secondary schools and there was very little content suited for primary age students. We decided to revert to our original plan of developing our own server. Recently, the Boston College High School Engineering Club took on the responsibilities for programming a raspberry pi server using content recommended or created by our pilot schools. We are testing out their Beta version now which has the new Kahn Academy Lite. We are collecting recommendations and materials now so that that when BC High resumes classes in the fall, they can be added.
African Stories for Young Readers
Like most African countries, Rwanda has very few picture story books in its native language for young readers. We are creating a digital library using the rich resources provided by the African Storybook Project that has over 250 illustrated stories in English for children 3 through 12 which we are translating into Kinyarwanda. The following gives an excellent summary of the need for such books and the vision of the story book project which is based in South Africa. For more information, visit their website africanstorybook.org.
Over the last decade, African Governments have made dramatic progress in pursuing the goal of Education for All. However, the reading literacy levels of African children after the first three years of schooling are far from adequate, both in providing the basic ability to read as well as the literacy necessary to proceed to the next level of schooling. There are many reasons for this. A key obstacle to learning to read is the shortage of appropriate stories for early reading in languages familiar to the young African child. There are few or no picture books for young children, and very little material of any kind in the familiar languages of most African children. Since young Africans have very little to read in familiar languages, they often do not learn to read well or enjoy reading. This in turn means that there is not a market for African language books and publishers cannot afford to produce many such books. So young Africans end up with very little to read and the cycle continues.
Our vision is for all African children to have enough stories in a language familiar to them to
practice reading and learn to love reading. We believe that literacy practices on the continent can be transformed by providing sufficient enjoyable stories in a familiar language, and encouraging caregivers and teachers to read them with children. But we cannot possibly create sufficient stories in the thousands of languages spoken on the African continent unless we share the stories we have, and enable users to translate/version stories into their own languages.
–Tessa Welch African Story Book Newsletter Reports 2013
After downloading the stories in a PDF format, we convert them into Power Point format so that we can edit, translate them into Kinyarwanda, and record the English text. A number of Rwandans are helping with the translations as well as students at Maranyundo and St. Joseph’s. All of the stories will be added to the raspberry pi server. The next step is to collect the Rwandan traditional stories and save them on a digital format so that illustrations, English translations and audio can be added.
In primary schools, the stories are most often shown with a projector for the younger students while P5 and P6 students use the tablets. We are still working on how to make audio available on the android tablets. Two other projects that need to be addressed are the design and fabrication of projector screens for the classrooms and simple tablet covers.
The ancient art of origami is used to create a small, pocket sized booklet we call Oksbo. It is folded out of a single piece of paper and a single cut with a pair of scissors. The can be illustrated, written by hand or typed and are easily copied or scanned. Marcella Felde introduced it at Maranyundo Girls School as a writing aide for the English curriculum. It became very popular with the students. Head of School, Sr. Juvenal observed that the students were more motivated than if they were just doing their writing homework; they thought of themselves as authors. In fact, some of their stories are being used at St. Joseph’s primary school. In collaboration with Sister Catherine at the Save Health Clinic, Marcella also created two health education booklets in Kinyarwanda for their community health workers. Last summer, a well-respected Kinyarwanda magazine for girls distributed free to Rwandan schools, featured the OKSBO project with many quotes from the girls about their love for writing as well as a graphic illustration of how to make the OKSBO.
In 2016 the Rwandan ministry of Education adopted a new curriculum which places more emphasis on student centered learning and hands on learning experiences. This move made our ideas for creating science kits to meet the needs of science teachers all the more urgent. Patrick Richmond connected us with Erica Ebbel Angle , founder of a nonprofit called “Science with Scientists” that creates kits which they use to teach science in local Boston schools. Noel Kuriakos is now at the Maranyundo Schools having brought science kits that the teachers there thought would be most useful. They will be skyping with Science with Scientists to learn more about their use in teaching. With these donated prototypes, we want to see if they can be fabricated in Rwanda using local materials. Connie Chow who is working with developing kits in Ghana and Jean Pierre Nshimyimana are also involved in bringing hands on science resources to schools.
The Benebikira PiBrary – An Explanation for Students
Unlike libraries with books, the Benebikira PiBrary requires no shelves. It is a digital library and is housed in a raspberry pi which is not the kind of pie that you eat, but a tiny computer the size of a desk of cards. The entire digital collection of books, stories, maps, pictures, science and math videos, test prep, articles, and documents are stored on its micro SD chip. That is why we call it a Pibrary instead of a Library.
Unlike libraries with books, you can “borrow” as many items as you would like when you visit and never have to worry about returning any of them. You “visit” the Pibrary when you come within 10 meters of the raspberry pi server. In your school it is probably located in the library or the computer lab. You log on to it with a computer, tablet or smartphone just as if you were logging onto the internet, except that you do not need an internet connection. You can read, hear and see everything that is on the pi. If you have your own devise and with permission of your school, you are able to download the documents and books onto it to use when out of range of the raspberry-pi.
Unlike libraries with books, no money is spent to buy the Pibrary collection. Everything is “open source,” that is everything in the collection was saved by authors or institutions in digital form and most of it is on the World Wide Web for anyone to use freely. You don’t have to buy minutes to use the r-pi and you do not need an internet connection or an electrical outlet.
However, like libraries with books, there are rules. Because all the information is “open source” you may not use it for commercial purposes. You cannot make a profit off the donated work of others. You are also required to always attribute its source and its author if you copy it.
You can help improve and expand the Benebikira Pibrary collection. Email your suggestions and items to firstname.lastname@example.org
There are significant challenges to creating libraries in Rwanda. Printed books are expensive, donated books from America or Europe are costly to transport and often not relevant; the internet which could support a digital library is expensive and many rural schools lack electricity. Rwanda’s rich oral tradition of children stories has not been published extensively while contemporary African literature is just beginning to come into its own. In addition, construction of stand alone libraries is expensive and bookmobiles can not access many of the rural villages.
The Raspberry Pi – What We Have Learned
It is against this backdrop that the group began looking at alternative approaches. We are indebted to the pioneering work of OLE in using the raspberry pi in Ghana to teach English. This began our foray into developing a digital library using the raspberry pi. Our first programmers were Brian McCarthy, Paraclete, Aimé de BERNERE , Rwandan Diaspora, David Martinka of MediaVu Systems and Boston College High School technology faculty. The content was placed on an external hard drive; it worked beautifully in Boston but not in Rwanda. After finally realizing that it was a problem of fluctuating power in Rwanda our second model used a battery charger to stabilize the current. In the meantime World Possible had create Rachel, a large library of digital open source content imaged on a SD Card for use with the raspberry pi. We used this card for second model, a great improvement over an external drive.
Our third model with a more powerful battery is working well. We have just begun a pilot with 30 low cost Android tablets ($ US 50) at the Maranyundo Girls School library with the expectation that we will develop a training manual as well as guidelines for maintenance and administration. We will also be using the Paraclete to test out its use in a local setting.
The Oksbo – More Than We Had Hoped For
The Benebikira Sisters of Rwanda wished to develop a reading culture in their schools and the Collaborative responded with Oksbo, an origami booklet folded out of a single piece of paper. Four creasing folds and a single cut with a pair of scissors creates a pocket-sized book. One ream of paper can be folded into 1,000 booklets at a fraction of the cost of a printed book. They can be turned inside out to reveal pictures or a translation into Kinyarwanda.
Marcella Felde, our PiBrary Collaborative Fellow, has been working with the Benebikira Sisters in Rwanda since 2014 and during her first year focused on the introduction of the Oksbo. It began being used in ways that we had not envisions. First, at the Maranyundo Girls School it became an effective project based learning tool for English classes. As the Head of School, Sr Juvenal,reported, the girls became very excited about becoming authors, copy editors, and illustrators to publish their stories., all the time improving their English writing skills. Secondly, the children’s stories they created will be used at St. Joseph’s primary school to enhance the library. Finally, what we had not envisioned was the request from the head of the Save Clinic to create education pamphlets in Kinyarwanda for community health workers. Moreover, the Oksbo can fit into the hand of a small child and be carried home to shared with the family and they also fit easily into the pocket of the health workers to take into the villages.
Vlcino Press was subsequently established for Oksbo and Oksbo originals will be digitally scanned for further distribution through the raspberry pi library.
Donations for the PiBrary Collaborative can be made directly to the Benebikira Sisters US Bank account or for those who wish to have a tax exemption, donations may be made to the Paraclete – Benebikira Fund.