Kindles open up world of possibilities for kids on Bougainville
An Australian scheme to get more children on Bougainville reading, using Kindles, is hoping to expand its aid project
An Australian scheme to get more children on Bougainville reading, using kindles, is hoping to expand its aid project.
Colin Cowell is an Australian with links to Bougainville going back to 1970 when he worked for Bougainville Copper Ltd.
Over his life he's been involved in a number of aid projects, both in Papua New Guinea and Australia, and one current project he wants to ramp up is Bookgainville.
Under this scheme he provides kindles to schools on Bougainville.
Mr Cowell told Don Wiseman Bookgainville came about when he was approached by the former president of Bougainville, James Tanis, who was studying at the ANU in Canberra, to help get books to children in the region.
COLIN COWELL: And I said 'Oh James the shipping rates to Bougainville are huge'. I have a background in technology. I said there has to be an easier way, and that is when I came across kindles. Each of the small kindles - they can hold up to 1400 books, for an Australian value of $99. So it is very very good value.
DON WISEMAN: You started raising money to provide these kindles and you were providing just a number for schools and kids were handing them around?
CC: Yes I have made a number of trips - I am semi-retired so I made a number of trips to Bougainville. And we set up a base in Arawa and we have a large database there. We use the idea that was developed here in Australia by the indigenous communities to encourage reading and literacy. They are very effective. Because young people they really like reading off an i-pad and it really encourages them to read. On my first trip up there I tried the kindles and we had kids reading 24 hours a day, just to get that knowledge and so forth, because they have very limited access to books. And so it has been very successful in improving their literacy.
DW: There are many schools on Bougainville aren't there. Just how many?
CC: About 350. The population of Bougainville is about 300,000 and obviously they are very small schools. On my first trip up there we actually established some schools. They can build a school for about a $1000 New Zealand dollars. So we actually built a few schools as well. They had nowhere to actually learn, so we have facilitated the schools and teachers and so forth.
DW: So how many of these kindles have you provided so far?
CC: We have put out about five kindles per school and there are about 11 schools we have completed so far, in the early stages. We have got some educationalists assisting us in assessing literacy levels and so forth and that will probably occur over the next couple of months and then we can take it to the next level. When you consider that if you bought the Harry Potter book it might cost you $NZ30, if you get a thousand books, that is $30,000 worth of books on one kindle - you know what I mean. So there are a lot of repositories around the world where we can get free books. So it is very cheap to get the books into the schools.
DW: Do you load the books on before they go up?
CC: We do. We have a database, and it is open access, books that we use. We have a database in Arawa, like a library system and people can top up from that particular library system.
DW: As you say, you are planning this - how big do you think you can go?
CC: I think we could do 100 schools. We are looking at new technologies at the moment. In Africa there is a world-wide organisation, called World Reader, that is actually recycling old phones, and putting the technology on old phones and then loading up the books onto old phones. So there is a lot of modern technology we are looking at at the moment. World Reader is concentrating on Africa but we are negotiating with them to say that 'Papua New Guinea we really need some educational levels raised', so there are all sort of opportunities. We have done this out of the kindness of our hearts. I have had friends in Australia, teachers, friends throughout Australia who have donated these kindles. Another thing, we have got to do the feasibility study now to evaluate the project, and I think when people see the results of the evaluation, the cost efficiencies of developing the system, I think we will get some good international aid support.
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