No internet or electricity? MLL has answers

Mobile Learning Lab (MLL) is overcoming educational challenges in low-income nations.

Students in Sierra Leone typically share outdated books that have been in circulation for years. The same 5-6 subjects are taught. Many children drop out before finishing primary school and fall into the same cycle as those before them. Nothing really changes.

Then, on a fall day in 2017, a suitcase shows up at a tin-roofed community center about the size of a Starbucks shop. The suitcase is from 60 million girls, a Canadian NGO. In it are 30 tablets and a 7-inch by 8-inch server which can be powered by a solar charger.

This is the Mobile Learning Lab (MLL). It contains 500GB of data which allows each lab to store thousands of educational content and programs. Content that includes Wikipedia articles, Khan Academy videos, textbooks, a database on health and wellness information, and programs teaching how to code, just to name a few.

No internet is needed. The tablets connect via Bluetooth to the server to access the wealth of programs. Here’s what it looks like in action.

The MLL Pilot

Thirty fifth-grade students, clad in blue and khaki uniforms, filed into a concrete floor room in November 2017 to test the MLL. As they sat at their wood arm school desk, they were handed tablets and given no other information. They turned the tablets over in their hands, puzzled and intrigued, and quickly made progress. Within a minute, every tablet was on. Students were leaning over their chairs, helping each other. The room filled with laughter as they posed for each other, experimenting with the camera app. By the 20-minute mark, students were on Khan Academy and watching Fantastic Phonics videos.

By the end of the 55-minute session, there were students who explored Ted Talks, read, did math, played games, and watched academic videos. When students were asked what they liked most about their session -- what they shared is at the heart of a self-directed life; they said they enjoyed learning on their own.

Since 2017, 60 million girls have sent the MLL to 11 countries. They have also consulted with many other NGOs to dispatch the MLL to a total of over 20 countries. Wanda Bedard, President of 60 Million Girls, has personally visited many of the locations in Africa and South America that have received the MLL. She spoke with Rise for Yemen and painted a picture of what those communities are doing today

“In 2018, after the initial evaluation project, the MLLs were given to the communities for them to use as they wished but without any additional funding. Three years later, four of the five communities are still running sessions for children at their MLLs having found the resources to do so within their own communities. Parents, teachers, principals all realized the value and impact of access to the MLL to the children of the villages.”

Students in blue uniforms working on tablets.

Image by 60 million girls

Students in Sierra Leone now have access to quality material for the same subjects they were being taught. They can also learn how to code, learn about business, health - they would run out of time before they ran out of content. The MLL is giving them access to new passions and new interests.

The MLL has been exposing offline children to material they never would have had access to before. This makes teaching easier for educators and learning easier for students.

What about Yemen?

All of this should inspire us to wonder, will it work in Yemen?

Many low-income nations face similar issues students and teachers face in Yemen. Yemen struggles with a lack of internet, electricity, and even teachers. Self-directed learning (learning with limited teacher interaction) is empowering. When students realize they can teach themselves, it breeds confidence and hope, and most importantly, autonomy.

What would happen if we drop a Mobile Learning Lab in the hands of a teacher or school administrator in Yemen? How would the quality of education for those students change?

Organizations like Re:Coded Yemen serve as a case study. They teach students how to code and have been creating job opportunities in Yemen while fueling the budding digital economy.

What can I do?

Rise for Yemen is looking for a partner to kick off a pilot in Yemen. If you have contacts in schools, community centers, or organizations that work in Yemen, please reach out to us.

Also, support organizations like 60 million girls. Their innovative work is paving the way for people in need all over the world.

About 60 million girls

60 million girls is a Canadian NGO founded by Wanda Bedard. You can learn more about Wanda through her Ted Talk. She has been kind enough to speak with Rise for Yemen on multiple occasions to share her experience, offer advice, and lend her encouragement. We applaud the innovative work being done by 60 million girls. Their site contains full details of their pilot, projects, and links to free resources.


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