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Ask Literacy Bridge Founder About Charity, Education, and the "Talking Book"

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the doing-what-you-believe-in dept.

Technology 61

Literacy Bridge is a public charity working towards the goal of creating tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning. More specifically, they have been working on producing a $5 "talking book" device that can both help improve literacy and provide a steady flow of important information while the education is taking place. Unlike many in the "wouldn't-it-be-nice" category, Literacy Bridge already has working silicon, shaped plastic, and actual presence in their target country, Ghana. Literacy Bridge has no paid employees, but several who volunteer their time to make this idea a reality. Cliff Schmidt, founder and executive director of Literacy Bridge, would like to answer any questions you have about the charity, the mission, or the technology. Prior to Literacy Bridge, 'Cliff ran a successful open source software consulting business for clients throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North America, specializing in intellectual property issues, nonprofit governance, privacy policies, and community development. He also served many nonprofit organizations, such as The Apache Software Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the OpenSEA Alliance, and the Free Software Foundation' in addition to working as a industry standards rep for Microsoft. Click through to see the Google TechTalk given by Cliff earlier this year. The usual Slashdot interview rules apply — so ask all the questions you'd like, but please confine yourself to one per post.

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Why are you such a nigger? (-1, Flamebait)

(TK3)Dessimat0r (669834) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510401)

I want to know.

Sony's ebook reader (1)

phoneteller (1261402) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510411)

Good, now I don't need to buy Sony's E-Book reader that costs 50 times more!

Er, do I have to buy TWO and donate one to a third-world country?

Re:Sony's ebook reader (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24510477)

Yes, it's called the nigger tax and there ain't no evading it.

Still dependent on technology. (4, Insightful)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510421)

What are you doing to prevent over dependence of the users on the talking book. Human nature being what it is, there will be a percentage of users that will probably simply let the Talking Book read to them without bothering to actually read because it's simpler than making the effort to learn to read.

Do you have plans to prevent this and encourage actual literacy instead of pseudo-literacy?

Technology as an Aide, not a Crutch. (2, Insightful)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510527)

pseudo literacy is better than no literacy at all.

Technology helps people who want to learn. People who don't want to learn ... well, they won't learn with OR without technology. Almost any tech aided project can lead to pseudo-learning instead of real learning, so don't get your panties in such a knot.

No, Literacy is a Tool (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#24512003)

Literacy is a tool used to accomplish things, and like any other tool (car, gun, intelligence) they are power multipliers. Most societies grow at a slow enough rate that allows them to learn how to cope and deal with the negative side of the tools they use (like computers unintentionally give us cybercrimes, which we respond to with cybercrime fighters and cybercrime fighting tools).

I can think of nothing more cruel than a group that would enjoy playing Superman or God, and prematurely introduce tools that will severely imbalance developing cultures. We all know what financing the Janjaweed [slate.com] has accomplished. (money + horse + gun = destabilized power grab) Literacy is NOT good, anymore than a gun is good, both can be 'used' to do good or bad. Developing cultures don't NEED a $5 iPod, they need to develop at their own pace without those with good-intentions paving the way.

Literacy is NOT a gun. (2, Insightful)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24513159)

Yes, literacy is a tool. But since language, reading and the written word have been influential throughout history, and the vast proliferation of literacy and knowledge (gutenberg, anyone?) was in part responsible for the development of civilization as we know it ... then literacy is probably more of a good thing than a bad thing.

Although history is written by the winners - it is safe to say that literacy is probably going to kill less people than, say ... men + horses + guns.

Your argument that

they need to develop at their own pace without those with good-intentions paving the way.

would be valid if those struggling economies and cultures didn't want to participate in the world economy. But they do - they are attempting to compete in a world where they're not equipped to compete. If people desire the luxuries that come with modernization, then they have to pay the price of modernization. I'd love to live in an environment where I didn't have to deal with smokers, teenagers and idiots every day - but I also want to live in a large city with access to amenities.

You can pick your actions, but not your consequences. 'Developing' countries and the population that wants to be educated MUST pay the price of development - either through cash or sacrifices of the 'old' ways. You can have some of both, but you can't be completely modernized and completely true to your roots. It just doesn't happen. China, America, Europe have all gone through industrialization, pollution and overcrowding (in areas). Who are you to presume that another country should get a free ride? A helping hand? YES. But free? No. That is the problem with the janjamen.


oh, and how is a gun 'good'? Other than a very effective way of enforcing your values upon others?

At least literacy never forces anyone to do anything - it is a tool. A gun is a weapon. Big difference.

How do you stop Brain Drain? (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#24515413)

Yes, literacy is a tool. But since language, reading and the written word have been influential throughout history, and the vast proliferation of literacy and knowledge (gutenberg, anyone?) was in part responsible for the development of civilization as we know it ... then literacy is probably more of a good thing than a bad thing.

This is your first point, and from there you make conclusions in your post based upon this assumption. But your assumption is false, which explains why your conclusions are also false. I will explain: (as this isn't a personal attack on you)

  • Literacy is not a prime mover of civilization, Freedom is.
  • When you try to add literacy and education into a developing countries, where there is no Freedom, then you don't get progress, you get a Brain Drain. [virtualave.net]
  • A Brain Drain only further hinders progress, as the best minds are driven away, instead of solving their own countries problems.

As I said in my original post, tools are force multipliers. So if you have Freedom, then tools will enhance that Freedom, but if you have tyranny, then those very same tools will enhance that tyranny.

Re:How do you stop Brain Drain? (2, Interesting)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#24516629)

Literacy is not a prime mover of civilization, Freedom is.

Economic Freedom? Freedom to move around? Freedom of Ideas? Free as in beer?

Your assumption that reading and literacy will enhance the effects of tyranny is odd.

You say that freedom grows society. We agree, mostly - except you don't state what generates freedom. Literacy encourages freedom.

# When you try to add literacy and education into a developing countries, where there is no Freedom, then you don't get progress, you get a Brain Drain. [virtualave.net]

So, the people are FREE to leave, and that creates the brain drain. Since freedom is present for brain drain to occur, you can't state that a lack of freedom causes brain drain. (You need one for the other).

Literacy encourages freedom. When people gained the ability to read and learn for themselves (gutenberg, again), the foundation was set for the renaissance. When people could read, knowledge could be obtained by many more people than simply using word of mouth. Knowledge is the result of literacy. And Knowledge inevitably leads to change for the better... and freedom is better than tyranny.

Re:No, Literacy is a Tool (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 6 years ago | (#24513209)

oh no, the region has been destabilised by people reading stuff! Look out mr president, the outlaws are coming to over throw you by writing things! Oh no, there are gangs of men armed with books going around slaughtering villagers, by... reading them books!

I can't find any situation where people being able to read would suddenly throw their country into chaos. How does literacy cause bad things to happen?


And I just read that article and it's about the government paying these men to attack rebelious citizens, not a power grab, it's another good old case of government repression there's no outside interference, it's the government of the country doing it, you think that wouldn't happen without guns? It sounds more like you are trying to say these brown chappies are too stupid to understand the white man's technology.

Re:Still dependent on technology. (2, Informative)

squidinkcalligraphy (558677) | more than 6 years ago | (#24521313)

I have taught students (at the upper end of the schooling system) who couldn't read. Yes, we were making efforts to teach them to read, but at the same time, they were interested in a lot of things, and _wanted to know and learn_ stuff. They just couldn't access it. If something like this acts as a bridge for these sorts of kids to stay engaged at school, then that's just brilliant.

A Talking Book? (1, Insightful)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510441)

A talking book is somehow supposed to help improve literacy?
How about a book that forces you to learn to read if you want to know it's contents?

Re:A Talking Book? (2, Insightful)

mweather (1089505) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510615)

How do you learn to read without someone or something reading the words to you?

Re:A Talking Book? (2, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510739)

By learning phonics, and sounding the words out. You only ask somebody for help when you come to a word you can't figure out on your own.

Re:A Talking Book? (2, Insightful)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510947)

Erm, who do they ask exactly?

The whole point of the talking book is that there are not enough teachers around to ask.

Re:A Talking Book? (2, Interesting)

mark-t (151149) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511371)

I suppose.... maybe if the AI was really ramped up, it might someday be possible to have a talking book that would encourage its reader to try to sound out words themselves first, only finally reading the word out to the child when the child has not been able to sound it out after a certain amount of time (this could be very subjective, and the book would probably have to learn to adapt to a particular child), and would be sure to congratulate a child whenever they had successfully sounded out a word they were having some difficulty with, to encourage the child to keep trying. It would further be able to respond to a child's queries with regards to word definitions, using spoken language no more sophisticated than the vocabulary required for understanding the particular book.

Re:A Talking Book? (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 6 years ago | (#24512285)

Very true, but I think the hope is that as they learn to speak, they will learn to read too. I am asuming of course that the text is displayed at the same time.

Re:A Talking Book? (1)

Sabathius (566108) | more than 6 years ago | (#24512453)

It's kind of funny, but you can sense this sort of technology coming. A perfect example is the scene in Wall*E when the computer helps the Captain sound out sep-tu-a-cen-tennial (cupcake in a cup!).

Re:A Talking Book? (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 6 years ago | (#24518613)

And how do you learn "phonics" ? By reading ?
There has to be a person in the loop somewhere.

Re:A Talking Book? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24510813)

Depends on the language. If it's phonetic like German or Russian, then you can learn just by learning how to pronounce a few letters/combinations (I learned how to read in 2 days). If you can speak a language like that, then in a few days you can learn to read it as well.

If it's something like English or French, then it will take you months (or years) to learn to read, or else you get the "Owe that eye mite bee that be" phenomenon.

If it's something like Chinese, then you are thoroughly fucked, since you can't even pronounce the word/character until you learn it (but on a plus side, you only need to know a hundred or so words to read the newspaper).

French isn't that hard to pronounce (2, Insightful)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511487)

If it's something like English or French, then it will take you months (or years) to learn to read, or else you get the "Owe that eye mite bee that be" phenomenon.

French spelling might not look very phonetic, but it is actually far more so than English is. Once you learn the common vowel combinations, which might take a few days at most, you can pretty much sound out French words without any trouble. On the other hand, trying to spell words that you hear can be very difficult.

I thought I might see what Wikipedia had to say about this, and here it is:

French spelling, like English spelling, tends to preserve obsolete pronunciation rules. This is mainly due to extreme phonetic changes since the Old French period, without a corresponding change in spelling. Moreover, some conscious changes were made to restore Latin orthography... As a result, it is difficult to predict the spelling on the basis of the sound alone... On the other hand, a given spelling will almost always lead to a predictable sound... In particular, a given vowel combination or diacritic predictably leads to one phoneme.

I'll vouch for the accuracy of those statements, too, since I've studied the history of the French language.

Re:A Talking Book? (2, Funny)

psxman (925240) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511255)

a book that forces you to learn to read if you want to know it's contents?

I believe that's called a "book".

Woooosh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24511315)

diamond age! (1)

zenrandom (708587) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510443)

You know thinking about the talking book, and amazon's kindle with whispernet... it seems only natural to think that the primer from Diamond Age could be just around the corner for some enterprising group of folks.

Re:diamond age! (1)

popeye44 (929152) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511201)

Wow, I've never seen a reference to that book on Slashdot.

Hmm I have a hardcover of that somewhere. Now I gotta read it again. Thanks!

Tooooo Mannnny Worrrrds... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24510525)

Can not make it past large giant block of text... Must go tweet.

A Steady Flow of Propoganda (-1, Redundant)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510579)

> ... a $5 "talking book" device that can ... provide a steady flow of important information ...

Ah, I see the primary use.
It's a device that feeds you the dogmatic BS without the inconvenient result of requiring you to learn to read. We wouldn't want you to be able to wander off and read just anything, after all.

Sounds familiar.. (0, Troll)

Duncan Blackthorne (1095849) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510597)

Is Neal [wikipedia.org] Stephenson [wikipedia.org] one of their contributors? ;-)

Education in Ghana; the Liberian Refugee Camps (5, Insightful)

pagewalker (1286802) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510683)

At the UNHCR camp in Ghana, the last I heard, tuition for a year in grades 3-8 was about $10/term.

So my question is, given the choice between a term of schooling for one child and two Talking Books (or half a term and one Talking Book), if you had only ten dollars to spend on your children's education, which would you get and why?

Re:Education in Ghana; the Liberian Refugee Camps (1)

phoneteller (1261402) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510733)

I would spend it on the poor kids slates, pens, pencils, books, transportation. But definitely not the talking book, no sir!!

The $5 iPod (2, Informative)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511123)

FTV - "Imagine a $5 iPod, used to play locally created podcasts."

One of the advertised features is Device-to-Device copy (which my multihundred dollar iPod can't do) is sure to run into legal problems, thus raising the target price even higher. To be fair, he did admit they cost more than $5 during his presentation.

Re:The $5 iPod (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 6 years ago | (#24518647)

Why does it have to be a fscking iPod ? And what legal problems exist in the places they would be used ?

Literacy (4, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510763)

Based on the comments here so far, I have this question: how do you overcome the perception that you're harming literacy by providing speaking machines rather than "forcing" people to learn to read?

Re:Literacy (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511335)

simple, these "speaking books" are a supplement not a replacement for actually reading books. same thing for those who read to their kids, the fact that it's a book reading to them rather than their parents is irrelevant.

Literacy learning? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24510981)

Why is such as thing needed?

Afterall, with compulsory government schooling, you'd think there wouldn't be illiteracy. Afterall, we don't leave education to the marketplace, so that we can avoid a situation where millions of kids would never learn to read!

Re:Literacy learning? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24511569)

Agreed, lets let the free market of Ghana dictate who gets education!

Intended use / Actual use (4, Insightful)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510983)

One of my greatest concerns is that devices like these will be used as propaganda spewers rather than learning tools. How do you plan or protect for that circumstance? Was it a concern when you actually put these devices in their intended use? Now that they're out of your immediate reach, is there anything you can do to prevent their use for propaganda?

Re:Intended use / Actual use (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 6 years ago | (#24512281)

Books also get used to spew propaganda. Big woop.

even less incentive for Johnny to read (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 6 years ago | (#24510987)

If the #$%^ book reads aloud to him!

Contributions... (2, Interesting)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511095)

What % of your contributions go to administration as opposed to real charity work?

Copyright issues (3, Interesting)

jandrese (485) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511113)

You appear to have half of the problem worked out in the form of an inexpensive ebook reader, but what are your plans for getting material to put on those readers? As I am sure you are well aware, the Public Domain is being strangled by changes to copyright law. Do you have a source of textbook material suitable for these children that can be given away for free? Presumably these poor communities can't afford the typical $20-$50/book fees for such material.

Re:Copyright issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24511959)

The Public Domain is only being strangled to death in the US. I'm pretty sure that other countries don't adhere to US law, and god bless them.

Re:Copyright issues (1)

andphi (899406) | more than 6 years ago | (#24513663)

According to the video of the presentation, the local users and local charities will create the content. The Literacy Bridge folks won't be creating any of it.

Question 7 (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511159)

Y Kant Tori Read?

I await the results -- does it help them? (1)

MickLinux (579158) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511239)

Reading the headline and the homepage, "Our mission is to empower children and adults with affordable tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning,...", I'd say that what they were trying to say is:

"We seek to teach children and adults to read and communicate."

I am very interested to see if their products work. Once they have tried them out, will they update their mission statement to reflect their newfound skills?

Re:I await the results -- does it help them? (1)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511779)

Hmm... I'd simplify that:

We will provide students with affordable tools for education.

Of course I haven't read the article to see what you elided, and as we all know, "Reading is Fundamental."

The Applications here... (1)

i_liek_turtles (1110703) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511469)

Could this possibly be bundled with Playboy?

Re:The Applications here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24511835)

Could this possibly be bundled with Playboy?

I don't see why not, since everyone just reads the articles.

I could see them pulling it off for less than $5 (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511531)

If the whole purpose of the device is simply to read text aloud, they could essentially go with a slightly more souped-up Speak 'n Spell. It doesn't have to be high tech at all. It could have an old-fashioned LCD (or even LED) display of the kind calculators use (i.e. no pixels, just bars for letter and number shapes) and a very, very basic text-to-speech program of which there are many available and are often relatively tiny pieces of code which have been working perfectly for decades.

It doesn't need to be perfect if it is just for learning. It doesn't need to sound glossy or look great. This is a lot like the ultra-cheap Apple II-style portables that were touted here a couple of days ago. I like that we're looking back on "obsolete" (i.e. really inexpensive) technology to help the developing world.

Reasons behind some decisions (3, Insightful)

querist (97166) | more than 6 years ago | (#24511803)

I have reviewed your website and I believe that I understand your objectives and how you intend for this device to be used. To aid literacy, it takes the place of a literate person reading the book to the learner.

I know that cost is an issue and that affordability in the target area is a major concern, but I am curious as to why there is no display, not even a simple LED/LCD display similar to that on several toys, such as the "Speak-and-Spell"?

My concern here is that if the physical book is lost, your device essentially becomes an inexpensive music player and its purpose fails.

bizn47ch (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24511815)

insisted that Dying. Everyone The curtains flew arseholes at Walnut you all 1s to let how it was supposed

ta*co (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24512081)

lizard - in other Trying to diisect

More background (2, Informative)

Lulu of the Lotus-Ea (3441) | more than 6 years ago | (#24513357)

There's lots of good material on Literacy Bridge's own site, and elsewhere. But a little plug: I had a change to speak with Cliff for about an hour and a half when I was reporting from OSCon. He was an interesting guy with a really good project. I wrote up my impressions of the conversation at: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/davidmertz?entry=project_leaders [ibm.com]

illiteracy and computers (1)

Wizzy Wig (618399) | more than 6 years ago | (#24513623)

As a former Literacy Volunteer/Instructor, I'm curious how an eBook will help a learner read the instructions on a medicine bottle, help their kids with homework, or fill out a job application?

Microsoft's initiative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24513983)

Microsoft Inc. has a technology initiative to make technology products accessible to illiterate people. They call it "Text-free U.I. [microsoft.com] . Technology can have miraculous benefits, but it does have limits.

Call me cynical and biased, but this does nothing to improve literacy, it simply extends the customer base of a technology company to people who cannot even read. However Microsoft can't be blamed too much for this, because most large corporations would pounce on an opportunity to expand the consumer base.

My question is this: As a literacy advocate, what merit do you see in offering the personal computer to people who cannot even read, write, and can barely feed themselves?

m$Od down (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24514535)

Low tech device (1)

DerekSTheRed (1292084) | more than 6 years ago | (#24515535)

My wife is a kindergarten/first grade teacher and she likes to use a technique to help some of her struggling kids. They are given a bit of PVC pipe shaped like a phone that allows them to hear themselves sound out words. For some reason, this helps many struggling kids to connect what the word sounds like and what the word looks like. Is your device similar to this technique?

Also, for kids with a teacher, does your "talking book" device give them any added value? Is it just to replace a teacher and if not can it also be used to supplement a teacher's lesson?

Why Technology (1)

dogolopee (886299) | more than 6 years ago | (#24515773)

What is the benefit of this new technology over traditional books and human interaction and how will this project help the fundamental problems that lead to illiteracy (poverty, lack of family literacy, and learning disabilities)?

Learning Disability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24517265)

How is this going to help people with Learning Disabilities, LD? Can you control the speed that the book reads at so these people can read with them? This approach has been documented to work but the rate of reading need to be adjustable to that person since each LD case has a different reading rate. How about the voice that is used for the books? A specific type of LD might have a harder time with this approach due to it not being a natural human voice. Or is it a human voice vs a computer voice. How do you plan to handle the ones that will abuse this type help? Have you ever dealt with a kid or adult that has a severe Learning Disability? How are you planning on dealing with people that think this type of help will destroy the education system/learning system? How do you plan to deal with a kid that has a severe Learning Disability that could really benefit from it but his/her parents are unwilling to allow it? These are just some of the questions, I hope you are willing to answer and thanks for reading them.

Re: (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 6 years ago | (#24577549)

Wow, I've never seen a reference to that book on Slashdot.Hmm I have a hardcover of that somewhere. Now I gotta read it again. Thanks!

teach English (1)

Y.T.G. (964304) | more than 6 years ago | (#24601225)

Why not develop an app that teaches English? There are many more resources available in English to learn from. And when people know how to speak English they should be able to communicate, grow, develop and learn on their own. You will give them the tools to learn.
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