The first Raspberry Pi computer room in Togo

Dominique Laloux first got in touch with us in May 2013 when he was on the point of leaving to spend a year in the rural Kuma region of Togo in Western Africa, an area where, until 2012, 75% of teachers had never used a computer. He had previously joined a team of Togolese friends to set up the Kuma Computer Center in the mountain village of Kuma Tokpli for the students and teachers of five local secondary schools, and planned to introduce Raspberry Pis there.

computer room in Kuma Tokpli

The building that currently houses Kuma Computer Center’s first computer room in Kuma Tokpli

We next heard from Dominique earlier this month. We were delighted to learn that besides the Center’s first computer room, which has now been up and running for almost two years, the team has established a fully functional Raspberry Pi computer room, with 21 Pis and a couple of other PCs, in Kuma Adamé, a village about 20 minutes’ motorbike ride from Kuma Tokpli. This will be used daily by the 200 students of the local middle school, and was financed largely by former Adamé residents who have settled in Lomé, Togo’s capital. A team of students and teachers from The International School of Brussels, where Dominique works, helped fund the purchase of the Raspberry Pis and their accessories.

Raspberry Pi computer room in Kuma Adamé

The new Raspberry Pi computer room in Kuma Adamé

The initial focus is on teaching the students basic computer literacy, and the team chose the Raspberry Pi based on its low initial cost, its anticipated low maintenance costs, its low power consumption and its use of Open Source software. Dominique believes – and we think he’s probably right – that this is the first Raspberry Pi computer room in Togo! He says,

The most important thing is that we now have a nearly complete “recipe” for the setup of a computer room anywhere in Togo, that would fit a middle school/high school for a total cost of about 6000€. The recipe includes the renovation of a school disaffected room (see what our room looked like 6 months ago in the picture), the installation of electricity and local area network at European standards, the design of furniture built by local workers, the training of teachers, the development of a curriculum to teach, the selection of a local support team, etc. Quite an experience, I must say.

Soon to be the new Raspberry Pi computer room!

Before work began on the new computer room

Key to the sustainability of the project is that it has been developed within the local community for the benefit of community members, having begun as an idea of teachers in Kuma. Various groups in the community are represented in the management of the project, contributing different kinds of support and expertise. Dominique again:

We are particularly proud of the setup in K. Adamé (we being Seth, Désiré, all other members of the Kuma Computer Center team, and myself). […] Our project has been operational for nearly 2 years now and it relies mainly on villagers themselves. Seth, who is in charge of the infrastsructure in K. Tokpli, is a local farmer growing mainly coffee and cocoa. A team of villagers is responsible for opening the room every day for 2 hours at least, and “cleaning teams” make sure the rooms stay in perfect condition. Local teachers will now take over the regular “computer classes” I taught during the entire past school year — sometimes going up to 40 hours per week. The newly installed Raspberry Pi reinforces our infrastructure and will serve 200+ students in K. Adamé from the next school year…

Currently the team is constructing a small building in Kuma Tokpli, which will become the permanent base of the Kuma Computer Center (and the second largest building in the small village), superseding the facility currently made available by a local farmers’ association. They also continue to work on the curriculum, and hope to introduce the students to programming in addition to teaching ICT and using the Raspberry Pis and other computers to support learning across the curriculum.

If you’d like to support the Kuma Computer Center, with funds or otherwise, have a look at their website. And if you’ve got an idea as good as this one to teach young people about computing, you’ll want know about the Raspberry Pi Education Fund, recently opened for applications and aimed at supporting initiatives like this with match funding; learn more here!

14 comments

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Great stuff! A low-cost computer designed for educational purposes always had potenital for use in developing countries, and it’s great to see this happening.

As a side note: the location “Kuma Tokpli, Togo” has defeated Google Maps… does anyone know where exactly this village is?

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Kind of indicates how small the village is and how far out of the way it is.

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Hi Tom,

Kuma is a canton of 7 small villages deep in the middle of the bush. So, no wonder it is not referenced on Google map (even though the villages appear on the aerial images as ligh brown spots in the middle of the green area).

Kuma is located just at the border with Ghana, facing Lake Volta. The (small) city closest to the canton is Kpalimé, which is referenced on quite a number of places on the web. Kuma Tokpli is at about 15 km from Kpalimé.

If you care to see what the village of K. Adamé looks like, check this (French speaking) video on Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdoLhUPgoSw

Kind regards,

DL

If you look on

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When it is said the cost includes installing an electrical supply to european standard, I wonder about supplying a voltage that then has to be downverted with all its losses through transformer inefficiencies and so on. Why not stay in the 12 volt domain with solar panels? the display is the culprit that usually demands the higher power. I know the cost and weight of a battery bank is a factor to consider here also.

With some of the replies to the previous blog in mind, A well designed R.Pi display with low power requirement could smash the cost even further, not to mention dimensional convenience

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Hmm. Something that uses only 5 Watts and has a 12V input? Where could we find such a thing? ;)
(WJDK)

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Since the Raspberry Pi team is working on some nice color screens (7″ and 10″), I hope that they soon add a low-power e-ink display, such as the E Ink Carta. A touch screen would be even better, along with Raspian support for a virtual keyboard. Then with a little work to make a case and install rechargeable batteries, a Wikipedia reader could be made for environments that don’t have mains power. After Wikipedia is installed, any storage remaining on the SD card could be filled with Khan academy videos (if the refresh rate of the e-ink display makes that feasible) and out-of-copyright classic books. When the batteries run down, the reader could be taken to the nearest charging service where mobile phones are recharged. This would be a good way to bring a lot of educational reading material into off-the-grid areas around the world.

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Hi Ben,

A small display and a virtual keyboard are not necessarily the best solution in a learning environment. It is indeed rather difficult for a teacher to work around a small display with students. A large display (15′ or 17′) is much more convenient. That’s what we are using in our Raspberry Pi room in Kuma Adamé and in our more “conventional” computer room in Kuma Tokpli.

The Canton of Kuma is lucky to have access to the national electricity network since 18 months (most villages in the Canton do not have running water yet !) The availability of the network made a huge difference in terms of what could be achieved with the Computer Center. Of course, we have regular power outages but, if they are annoying at times, we still prefer that solution. Of course, we keep investigating solar energy solutions, as we are considering installing Raspberry Pi rooms in villages where the electrical network is not yet available.

About educational material, we do have a server with a copy of the French language Wikipedia running under Kiwix, and we started to collect a large number of public domain videos and other educational material. We also started to build a collection of slides in LibreOffice Impress, that can be used for ICT training… Such slides can be displayed with a projector, or printed as posters. Teachers really liked the idea.

Books are a more difficult aspect of educational material to deal with…
Of course, we made a large number of “out-of-copyright classic books” available to the students and their teachers (we even introduced a few Kindles ;-) But there are issues to consider when introducing books in a country like Togo:
— French is not the first language and the level of comprehension is often insufficient to read “classic” books;
— books written in Europe or North America are often too distant from African culture to appeal to young African readers, and there are very few — if any — “out-of-copyright” African books;
— many books available in the public domain were written during the colonial era and some contain language and ideas that can be disturbing for young African readers in 2014;
— reading is not yet part of Togolese culture, which is mainly an “oral” culture; in rural areas, most teachers, like students, do not read more than a couple of books per year, if any ! );

Then comes the issue of the “legal aspects” of scanning extracts of more recent books, such as 20th Century African books which are in the national curriculum for MS and HS… Books are a scarce resource in rural Africa; many students do not ever have access to the books they are supposed to read during the school year. Some teachers photocopy extracts in order to have at least 5 or 6 copies available for their 30 or 50 students. Is that legal ? Scanning extracts would make it very easy to use them on each raspberry Pi in the computer room. But… would that be legal… ?

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Yes, I applaud (and learn from) your choices given your budget, local resources, and mains power. The Computer Center is a wonderful achievement and will stimulate the minds and economic prospects of many, many young people and thus the greater community.

Reading my remarks, I see how unclear they were, as they were not intended as suggestions for your project, but rather for mine. I am involved in a secondary school in western Kenya that doesn’t have power, so the low-power offline Wikipedia reader project is my current thinking as to the most cost-effective and power-effective way to bring useful scholarly materials to the students, and teachers.

When power arrives at the school, in some years time, a computer lab will follow, benefiting from the lessons you have been kind enough to share.

As for copying materials, yes, the principles of sharing that are embodied in free software will some day be applied, more fully than they are today, to courses and other written works released under copyleft license. Now that free software has made such miraculous things as the internet and the Raspberry Pi possible, I’m sure that the sharing ethic will continue to spread to other domains of intellectual property previously dominated by “what’s in it for me” thinking. Thank you Raspberry Pi Foundation, Khan Academy, Wikipedia, OLPC, and others for helping bring quality education to everyone.

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you may integrate the RACHEL project by worldpossible.org

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Thank you so very much — I didn’t know about that!

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Applause. That’s all I have to say. Just applause (and well done!)

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Given the climate and RPi’s low power consumption, I wonder how much investment would be required to run them from solar panels. That could be a good solution for other locations without an electricity supply.

Love the funky glass bricks!

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