“Our Problem is Internet” on BRCKs in Schools

Yesterday we spent the morning taking a few new pictures of the BRCK, since there had been some cosmetic changes to the design (we moved the light on the top, and put the power button on the side). One of the first places we stopped was a school in Kawangware, one of the lower income areas of Nairobi. Over the past few months, more and more people who deal with schools and education have been reaching out to us. There is a growing demand for connected devices, for administrators, teachers and students. We intend to see BRCK coupled with tablets and Raspberry Pi solutions in Africa's classrooms.

Making Digital Education More Efficient

Nivi Mukherjee runs eLimu, a Kenyan organization that designs a tablet-based Android app which helps prepare primary school students to pass their standardized exam to get into secondary school. They've been doing fantastic work for the past 3 years, and their program is really getting off the ground. One issue that Nivi has with the system is that each of the tablets in the school has to have its own SIM card to download the most recent content (daily/weekly). You can imagine how expensive this gets with 50 devices at a time. This is where Nivi and I sat down to discuss where the BRCK can fit in. We're trying to see if having a single BRCK in a school like this can help reduce costs. The BRCK can download the data/information (and upload too, if needed), each day at midnight. The next morning, instead of each child with a tablet updating to the local tower, instead they would just connect over WiFi to the BRCK and get the latest content sync. That's just one way we think it could be useful, not to mention what can be done by the administrators during the day to get more reliable email and internet connectivity using the device. In fact, as we were leaving the school we asked Peter the headmaster how his tablet education program was going. His response was, "The tablet program works very well, our problem is internet".

Customize an Ed-Tech Solution

Recently another education-tech focused individual got in touch with us, this time from Uganda, by the name of Johnny Long. He's trying to figure out a solution that takes hardware like Raspberry Pi, Chromebooks, Arduino and solar, and then mixes them with software from RACHEL, Khan Academy (via Ka-Lite) and GCFLearnFree for schools that have poor infrastructure. It's a hard problem, made harder by internet connectivity issues. Because of his incredible depth of knowledge on software development and firmware, we're ensuring he too gets an early BRCK as well. The power of the BRCK isn't just in the redundancy and ruggedness of the device, it's in the fact that you can customize it to your needs. What's needed in semi-rural Uganda is not the same as what's needed in urban Ghana, nor are the needs the same between public and private schools. For this reason we created the BRCK Cloud with an API so that software developers can customize their own software for the BRCKs that they run. We also provide a GPIO port which allows people to customize with other hardware, like solar, additional ports, more hard drive space and especially items like Raspberry Pi. We know we can't come up with all of the ways to use and customize the BRCK on our own, and it's in this industry where we feel a lot of great new ideas will flourish. Whether you're doing something for one school or you're running a massive program such as OneBillion in Malawi and beyond, the custom software and hardware connectivity needs can be met with a BRCK. I'm looking forward to shipping the first BRCK devices out to people who run these programs in the next few weeks, as they represent something we cherish about deeply about the BRCK. You see, our vision is a world connected, where the last-mile of internet connectivity is as seamless for someone living in Africa as it is in Europe or the US. There's no where more in need of this than schools.

Written by ehersman

3 responses to ““Our Problem is Internet” on BRCKs in Schools”

  1. […] have them in the schools yet.  What you saw, and what I wrote about on my blog post titled, “Our problem is internet” on BRCK in Schools, outlines the challenges and opportunities around supplying reliable internet in African schools, […]

  2. Edmund Resor says:

    This will be great even for schools that cannot afford devices for students. The RACHEL Digital Library can help teachers and nurses. To preview much of the content that could be hosted by a BRCK with a USB Flash Drive go to or GCF Learn Free or Practical Answers at Practical Action.

    For those folks farther from a cell tower than the range of an external Yagi antenna, you can send in the BRCK on a bus or a bicycle once a week to keep it up to date or update. Alternatively, at night, if you or a neighbor has a VSAT provider such as AfSat with free night time data transfers you can get free night time updates.

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