This blog was established to put forward the concept that Amazon’s new Kindle e-book reader can play an important part in combatting declining literacy levels among schoolchildren in the US. (And eventually in other countries if the wireless capability is expanded globally. Until that happens, the optional storage card can hold hundreds more than the 200 books that the Kindle’s built in memory can store. This feature thus brings many of the Kindle’s benefits to regions that currently lack wireless access to it.) Think of it: school kids with access to a virtually unlimited array of textbooks, classic literature, always-on Wikipedia and an array of other educational resources, while simultaneously reducing the weight of their overburdened backpacks! Yes, the current price point is a major deterrent but as the law of declining technology prices kicks in, volume discounts, etc, soon it will be within the reach of many students. For those in need, a non-profit is being established that subsidizes the cost of the unit, thus extend the reach to anyone, regardless of income bracket. Combined with initiatives such as the Gutenberg Project, which offers a catalog of tens of thousands of free e-books, the Kindle could be a more effective solution to achieving the goal of universal literacy than the One Laptop Per Child mission.
I see the two technologies serving largely different needs and markets. The mission of the OLPC foundation, as stated on their website, is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child (up to the 5th grade). This goal is being achieved by negotiations between the foundation and various third world governments, typically for millions of units. The scale is far more ambitous than what I had in mind for the Kindle, which due to its current wireless capability, will only work in the US. I’m not sure if OLPC is even intended for any US children, but even if it is, I think the Kindle is probably the more effective tool to deal with the literacy gap. It has (or could have, with appropriate licensing deals) everything that underserved middle and high school children would need to raise their literacy levels – all the textbooks, dictionary, thesaurus, and other reference materials, not to mention an always on connection to Wikipedia. (and it plays audiobooks and MP3s). I still believe it would be less daunting to roll out the Kindle to this population than OLPC. I also think the aim of KindlesforKids should be the middle and high-school grades, since this is the stage that reading activity has declined over the last decade. (To see some actual data, refer to the NEA’s recent report: To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence.)
So to move this initiative forward, it is necessary to test the hypothesis that putting Kindles in the hands of school children who have limited or no access to the materials they need to further their education will somehow improve their literacy. In the US, which like it or not, is obsessed with two terms, tests and standards, (due to the No Child Left Behind Act), this requires demonstrating a measurable increment in reading scores among school children after a year or two of any introduction of new technology or learning method. Therefore the first step in this process is identifying a population of school children that meets the general standard of “underserved” and that has lower than average literacy scores. This should not be too difficult. The next step is to find an adventurous teacher and supportive adminstration that is willing to conduct this pilot program.
The non-profit organization that I have established, Connect2Books.org, seeks to partner with other organizations and foundations to underwrite the cost of the hardware and a nominal selection of e-books. Any takers? I will use this blog to document my progress. Stay tuned…