Story-telling has been the main way of passing down information from generation to generation in many parts of the world, especially regions where there are high levels of illiteracy such as sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, a charity called Literacy Bridge is using this traditional of story-telling and giving it a digital twist through the use of a new handheld Talking Book.
Talking Book is a low-cost audio computer now being used by an estimated half a million people. The books are pre-loaded with audio libraries that offer advice and guidance across a number of areas including health and well-being, education and even new agricultural techniques. Literacy Bridge’s aim is to improve the livelihoods of impoverished families through comprehensive programs that provide on-demand access to locally relevant knowledge.
Unlike ordinary recordings, the Talking Book applications allow users to engage with the device in an interactive way, such as providing multiple choice quizzes and messages with embedded hyperlinks. The programmable applications provide a very inexpensive route for illiterate communities to learn and adopt new practices to fight poverty and disease, particularly in the areas of agriculture and health education.
Each device has been designed to be as user friendly as possible with the assumption that users may be illiterate. The device measures 12cm x12cm x 6.5cm with different indentations to enable visually-disabled users to navigate the device. It is powered by zinc-carbon batteries as many of the poorest communities do not have electricity. Each device has an internal microSD memory card that can hold hundreds of hours of audio ranging from different languages and dialects.
Literacy Bridge, together with the University of Michigan’s Department of Electrical Engineering, is currently working on a design for the Talking Book that will replace most of the components on the circuit board. It will include the ARM® Cortex®-M0 processor together with spoken audio options and its own operating system.