In 2012, 41 touchscreen tablets were given to children in two villages in rural Ethiopia. These villages had no schools, and the children had no access to literacy. Nicknamed the ‘literacy tablet’, this technology was intended as an educational delivery mechanism to bootstrap reading. The tablet was designed to help remotely located rural children teach themselves to read. Throughout the year-long study, usage data was tracked as 41 children encountered technology and literacy for the first time.
We present visualisations of this data, acquired by the tablets using open source tools. These digital ethnographic artefacts provide insight into what types of applications and experiences are interesting to users as they explore early literacy. Beyond usage data, the social relationships and personal stories of learning were revealed. The resulting narrative describes how children become passionate learners and teachers of their community.
The idea of a tablet-based education has its roots in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, a piece of cyberpunk fiction. In that story, a book with artificial intelligence technology adapts and mentors a young girl’s education into adulthood. Our project is an early proof of concept demonstrating the potential of realising this vision. The tablet data provides a novel way of documenting the learning process within a culture, serving as a virtual cultural artefact of how education spreads within a community. This project also raises issues about culturally sensitive ways to introduce educational technology to isolated peoples in developing countries.