“How can we get more tablets?”
By Hila Olyan, CODE Director of International Programs
“How many people have used a tablet before?” asks the facilitator. One person raises their hand. “How many people have used a smart phone?” This time 6 hands go up.
There are 23 librarians around the table. It is the third day of librarian training in Addis Ababa. The librarians have come from across the country as part of CODE’s Reading Ethiopia / Beyond Access program.
The project is a joint effort by CODE, CODE-Ethiopia and IREX to pilot an improved set of services at community libraries. In particular, the project aims to improve access to supplementary reading materials in local languages; create opportunities for children, youth and their families to practice reading and writing; and strengthen parental and community engagement to support literacy.
The program has been ongoing in various iterations for more than 15 years but this time we’ve decided to get a little more innovative: we’re introducing technology (tablets) into the program to further increase literacy and support readers of all ages. Custom apps in Amharic and Afaan Oromo have been put on the tablets – and librarians are learning to use them for the first time.
To begin with the training is hard. Getting the hang of a touchscreen is a new experience for just about everyone. Desktop is a new term. Drag and drop is a new action. Uploading, downloading, USB cable – there are no shortage of new concepts.
Admittedly I start to worry. Perhaps we’ve been too optimistic. Can we really teach the librarians all they’ll need to know before they head home? We’ve got two and half days to move from ‘never seen a tablet’ to ‘in-house tablet expert.’ It is clear the next few days will be busy.
Turning it on is easy. Swiping right, that’s a little trickier. There’s the volume and the back light. It takes practice but its clear the librarians can handle that too. Then we move onto the apps. To begin with there will be three that were custom made. One for beginning readers. A second which starts to look at word recognition. Then there is story app.
Not only are the librarians able to navigate the apps (with our guidance), but it’s clear they are enjoying this. They are trying out the headsets, they are getting the hang of the camera (yes, there were selfies), but most importantly they are eager to explore all of the functions.
The day comes to an end. We send each librarian home for the evening.
Early the next morning we meet at the National Archives and Library Agency. It’s clear everyone has been practicing. It’s not clear that anyone has slept.
Every librarian has their tablet in hand. All of them have figured out the cameras and plan to take a video of the library to show their communities back home.
“Have you been trying the apps?” I ask one of the women.
“Of course.” She smiles. “I stayed up late practicing."
“What did you think?” I follow up.
“How can we get more tablets?” she asks, “I think they will be very popular.”