How Africa's first education tablet computer was created

  • 16 September 2014
  • From the section Business
Media captionIvory Coast is introducing the first tablet computer made specifically for schools

Thierry N'Doufou's three eldest children tumble out of the car; the little one trips over her school bag as she tries to work out what to do with her break-time snack.

"We continue to go to school here as we went to school 100 years ago," says the 36-year-old entrepreneur.

"The same heavy backpack, the same blackboard with the same chalk."

And that heavy backpack is what Mr N'Doufou is hoping to lighten by introducing a bespoke tablet computer made specifically for schools in Ivory Coast.

Taking a tablet

Two years ago, he came up with Qelasy, Africa's first educational tablet. "We thought about how to build a digital backpack; a tablet that will replace books, textbooks, notepads."

Image caption The Qelasy tablet is pre-loaded with the entire school curriculum

The idea is simple; transfer a country's entire education curriculum onto a digital format, along with sounds, animations and interactivity, and you no longer need a satchel crammed with school books.

The 36-year-old teamed up with a designer and then managed to find an investor to build a prototype.

This month his Qelasy tablet is going into schools for the first time. "This is a day I've been waiting for," Mr N'Doufou says.

The Ivorian government will be introducing the tablets to 5,000 students in public schools, while some private schools in both Ivory Coast and Morocco will be running pilot projects.

They have also had interest from Ukraine, Macedonia, Senegal, Nigeria and France. "My dream is to reach all the schools in the world for a better education," he says.

The tablets will also be available in shops at a cost of $232 (£143), before tax.

'The brightest brains'

Qelasy's headquarters in an upmarket area of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city, are not quite Google but they are certainly impressive. There is a built in sound studio along with a 3D animation design suite, complete with the latest technology.

Image caption Thierry N'Doufou's education "tablet" is being introduced into schools this month

In the studio, two members of the team are busy recording the Ivorian children's book, "Father Christmas loves attieke", a traditional Ivorian dish.

"The idea is to make reading more fun, so we use funny voices and music," says Mr N'Doufou. "We also do audio books because it helps children with the pronunciation."

At the weekly meeting Mr N'Doufou introduces the Qelasy team; "the brightest technology brains in the area," he says. It's not hard to find tech savvy people in Abidjan; the Ivorian web community here is strong.

People speak both French, the national language of Ivory Coast, as well as English. "We're now looking to do an Arabic version because we want to reach Mauritania, Algeria and Middle Eastern countries," says Mr N'Doufou, adding they also want to do one in Spanish.

Image caption The Qelasy team have international plans for their tablet

The team are discussing the details of the upcoming Qelasy launch. Their dream is for every classroom in Ivory Coast to be using Qelasy tablets.

"Children are struggling to get access to books," he says. "With digital, schools in villages can access the best courses in the world."

At the moment the tablets are all made and assembled in China, but Qelasy's vision includes setting up a factory in Ivory Coast. "It's our dream," says the entrepreneur.

"I'm passionate about education because I would like our country, our continent to take the place that it should have in the world and without education it's not possible."

'Very easy'

Back at Mr N'Doufou's children's school, some of the students are trying out Qelasy.

The entrepreneur stands at the front of the classroom demonstrating how the teacher would use the tablet.

"This tool is very easy. With one finger you can access almost anything," he says as he displays how he has complete control over every student's tablet, with the ability to see exactly what they are doing.

"I love the tablet because actually we can learn lots of things," says eight-year-old Olivera Daplet, who then goes on to read one of the online books out loud.

"I prefer Qelasy because it's lighter and we don't need a big bag," says Dominque Grah Thipourah, also eight, adding that it is the music and the animations she loves the most.

"For Ivory Coast to be an emerging country it must have children using technology," says school principal, Marie-Loure Kindo Assandoi, who's considering introducing Qelasy into her school next year.

"Technology is not the future," she says. "It's already the present."

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