Spreading the Tab

Donnel Matemba, 4, from Tallaght, Ireland at an event hosted by Camara Education Inc., which collects donated computers and sends them to schools in Africa, Ireland and the Caribbean. The organization is still waiting for its first tablet donation.
Image Courtesy/Camara Education

When people buy new technology these days, they are not entering into a long-term relationship. It’s less “till death do us part,” and more “till upgrade do us part.” And when we move on to form new bonds with faster, glitzier technology, donated devices find a second life as well, often ending up in under-funded schools.

As the next generation of tablets arrives into our quivering hands, older models are just beginning to trickle in to charities that are now deciding how they will use them and where they will go.

“Tablets are going to be in the schools eventually. It’s just natural. Five years from now, we will probably be shipping more tablets than laptops,” says Blake Burke, CEO of Camara Education Inc. in the United States.

Founded in Ireland, Camara is a social enterprise that collects donated computers and sends them to schools in Africa, Ireland and the Caribbean, and then trains teachers how to use them as educational tools. Though Camara is still waiting for its first tablet donation, Burke has already begun to think about how they might use them. The main benefit he sees is that they will expose children to the same technology that the world is using, ensuring that they don’t fall behind in their skill sets.

But making sure teachers know how to use them will be a challenge. Every time Camara ships computers to a new school, they also send people who can guide educators on how best to use the new tools. Incorporating tablet computers will require a whole new infrastructure and approach to training.

The main challenges are training and implementation. If the teachers don’t know how to use them, Burke says, “It’s a waste of time.”

It will also take some time before charities have seen enough tablets come through to figure out what models they can use. Most organizations remain selective about what they accept, preferring computers that are fewer than five years old. In other words, no Ataris

“For PCs and laptops, we have a minimum spec so that we can ensure that what we send out will get a few more years mileage,” says Viviane Walker, the marketing officer for Computer Aid International, a not-for-profit in the United Kingdom. “With tablets, we’ve simply not had enough exposure to see what the variety in quality and standards are like so I don’t know right now whether we’ll take everything, or focus on models that we know are reliable.”

(Dell, which owns this site, has a partnership called Dell Reconnect with Goodwill Industries, administered through the charity’s 2,500 locations in the U.S. and Canada, which accepts used computer equipment of any brand or condition. Some of the systems are refurbished and resold through Goodwill.)

But not all organizations are waiting for tablets to trickle down to them. Other organizations are finding specialized situations for which a tablet could be more useful tool than a laptop or a personal computer. In the Philippines, William Dar—the director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)—is working with the Department of Agriculture to develop its own tablet specifically designed to provide information to farmers about weather, soil needs and other conditions that could help them increase their yield.

“We would like to provide value-added inputs along with agro-advisory.  I see this is possible with a tablet—a hand held device with a complete suite of applications from self-guided instructions and GPRS to a camera for capturing pictures and videos.  If urbanites enjoy the benefits of these contemporary ICT tools, why not remote rural communities?” says William Dar.

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