All posts by msimamizi

Interesting Web Site focusing on teachers

I discovered the Teach Thought web site today. It’s written for the first world (at least that’s the impression I get), however some of the ideas and articles seem very stimulating, especially we we’re using lots of videos as part of ka-lite and RACHEL in various pilot projects.

Here’s the article that I found particularly interesting today:

2015 Week 10 (w/c 02 March)

I finally have a week at home after working away in Sweden for the last 5 weeks. I have a backlog of many small projects and experiments related to eLearning. I’d like to provide a snapshot here, partly to encourage me & also in case you’d like to help somehow.

  1. Test RACHEL on the new Raspberry Pi Model 2 B+. I bought six of these cute, more powerful units a month ago. I need to update the kernel on an existing RACHEL Pi image so the software will boot on the new model.
  2. Explore with reducing the runtime memory to see if we can get RACHEL to run adequately on the Raspberry Pi Model A+ devices (with 256MB RAM). Damien already discovered one of the web servers is using 10’s of MB of RAM to simply redirect a web browser from port 80 to ka-lite in one of the older RACHEL distribution. We should be able to slim down the memory footprint with a little experimentation and might even be able to improve the performance in other ways.
  3. See if I can create a working LibraryBox image to run in a TP-Link mini-router.
  4. Try ka-lite for Android on a Tablet device
  5. Then there are lots of tasks related to improving the management and deployment of RACHEL
  6. Plan my workshop for eLearning-Africa conference, on 20th May in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia.
  7. Write/publish various articles related to the field-trials of the Android Tablets and Raspberry Pi’s.
  8. Help volunteers at Cognizant who have asked for manuals to help people get involved in aspects of the project e.g. translating ka-lite, and some of the content used in RACHEL.
  9. Helping the OPTE school in Santiago, Chile to guide a teacher in the use of ka-lite with teaching mathematics to class 4 pupils.
  10. Experiment with the 3 recently arrived BRCK devices. One was a replacement for my early kickstarter device and the other 2 are potentially for pilot projects in the field.
  11. Ongoing tests of the reliability of Raspberry Pi’s, the SD-Cards, etc.
  12. Testing alternatives to the Raspberry Pi’s

I suspect there’s lots more I’ve forgotten to include. However this might enough suggestions of where people might be able to help.


Here are some links to potential materials that may be relevant and useful for people. Thank you to various people for providing the links, and of course to the people who created the material and make it available online.

The language of the materials is often English, sometimes other languages may also be available. You would be welcome to contribute materials in other languages, and/or to enhance existing materials by translating and/or providing subtitles.

‘ScienceOnStage’ pdf’s and videos.

The Institute of Physics also have instructions for nearly 100 experiments to be carried out using basic equipment…

Keep going, don’t wait for speedbumps to disappear

Many things can cause a project to stall. During my visit to Kenya in April 2014 I discovered various problems that had caused projects to stall, each was fixable, and the fix will enable the schools to continue getting the benefit of their respective projects. These things, are similar to speedbumps on the roads, ubiquitous in Kenya and many other countries. If we stop when we reach a speedbump, because they take a little more energy to cross, we’d be blocked indefinitely. Instead we’ve learned to keep going, albeit slowly, to cross the speedbump and continue our journey.

The schools need to commit to crossing speedbumps in their respective projects by taking ownership and committing to get problems resolved. I, and others, are very willing to help people who make the effort.

Here are examples of some of the problems that had caused projects to stall:

  • A Server computer wouldn’t start in a recently commissioned computer lab in a secondary school. The school was waiting for an engineer who hadn’t arrived in the last few months. The problem was related to the power supply in that computer. There are at least a dozen similar computers available and the hard disk from the server computer could be installed in one of these computers to restore service to the computer lab. It hasn’t been used for the last 5 months because of this relatively simple problem. Apparently the schools were offered free training when the lab was commissioned but declined. If they’d taken the training, perhaps they’d have had the skills and confidence to diagnose and fix the problem far earlier rather than waiting indefinitely.
  • Another school’s computer lab had no internet connection any more. Apparently the SIM card had disappeared from the Safaricom network router. There seemed a lack of curiosity or interest to understand what had happened. A replacement SIM card, with data credit, would cost less than 2,000 Kenyan Shillings (KES) around $25 USD, a sum that the school can probably afford. The lack of Internet access severely limited how the computers were being used by the pupils and staff. Of course, it’d be wise to protect the replacement SIM card so it doesn’t disappear too.

Field Report by Leonard Odongo on the benefits of ordering books via worldreader

The use of the kindle has greatly promoted the basic ICT skills of the teachers and students of the schools that have benefited from this pilot project. From the start, it appeared a rather complex task for the teachers who saw it for the first time. Through continuous practice, the active teachers have learnt a lot and even some pupils have acquired the basic skills. This is an encouraging trend for our learners in Oyugis.

Loading credit onto the kindle accounts caused a lot of mess and the funds in some cases were never spent wisely. One would easily be lured into purchasing books of their choice but in the long run realize they are not relevant to the curriculum. I feel this made some of the funds go to waste not really benefiting the children and teachers.

By introducing Worldreader, a great change has happened; the schools get the books directly onto their kindles. By just clicking on the archived items, a list of books appears and download with ease. I am glad; most of the books selected by teachers in Oyugis area have been posted onto the kindle.

A case in point is Nyabondo School. They were the last to receive a kindle and when I visited to help them download the books, I was surprised they had already done it, wonderful!

I see a remarkable improvement on the use of the kindles and I believe the schools will achieve a lot more knowledge and skills on the use of the kindle for e learning.

Leonard Odongo – School link programme manager.

Editorial Notes by Julian Harty:

The schools had a budget to purchase books from the Amazon store. Sometimes irrelevant or inappropriate books were bought, which depleted the budget to buy more relevant books. Thanks to World Reader’s help we provided a list of books in Swahili. The various schools collaborated to select a common list of books that would suit them. I then paid for these books and they were distributed electronically in January 2014.

Solar Powered Kindles with e-volt batteries at Nyabondo School Oyugis, Kenya

In October 2013 we were able to send more Kindles, Solar Panels, and USB Batteries provided by an innovative Danish company called Volt to the schools in Oyugis Kenya. In this post we have included photos of the headteacher demonstrating how to charge the battery using the solar panel and then the kindle using the battery. By using USB batteries we’ve been able to resolve a technical problem where the power provided by the panels wasn’t sufficient to charge kindles or other devices directly.

We really appreciate the support of Volt who have provided 6 batteries in October. These batteries have survived a wealth of concerts and are now helping the schools to recharge their kindles in Kenya, thousands of miles away.

I (Julian) first met one of the founders Trygve, at a large street concert in Copenhagen in May 2013. They provide an innovative service to concert goers in Europe who want to recharge their smartphones while at the concert or event. He provided one of their batteries so I could test it, and it’s one of the few I’ve found that works reliably. They’re surprisingly capable for such a small compact device. Their web site is

On to the photos

The head teacher with all the pieces to power and use the kindle at their rural school
The head teacher with all the pieces to power and use the kindle at their rural school
Using the battery to charge the Kindle
Charging the battery using a 3-watt solar panel

We will monitor the effectiveness and reliability of the Volt batteries and Solar Panels (from another supplier). In parallel we’re testing larger capacity USB batteries so we can compare the results.

Misleading warning message when account balance is insufficient you do not have a valid credit card

This week one of the schools reported they’d been unable to buy books using their Kindle. I checked the account and even configured a spare Kindle to use the same account to see what was the problem. Here’s what I discovered

The school last bought a book on 11th October Kamusi Changanuzi ya Methali (Swahili Edition)
Their current balance was

Available Gift Certificate Balance: £6.84

I managed to buy a book using the Kindle for about £1 which I then returned immediately using the ‘bought by mistake’ link. So, all appeared to be in order. I didn’t see the error message.

However I decided to try again when the school sent me a screenshot with the warning message that said: “You do not have a valid default credit card specified for your user account. You can set up your default credit card now or you can visit and click on ‘Manage Your Kindle’ from ‘Your Account’ page. Please note that subscriptions and pre-orders cannot be purchased using gift cards. Would you like to set up your credit card now?”

This time I got the same error message when I tried to buy a book for £3.99 – less than the balance that I’d checked that morning. Now I had something to work with…

I then logged into the web site from my computer, to check that the account had been configured correctly. (See for details.)  After some investigation I discovered the school had managed to buy another book during the day for £6.42 which left a balance of £0.42 on the account, insufficient to pay for another book of £3.99

On the Amazon web site, when I try to buy a book that exceeds the remaining balance there’s a very clear explanation (see below), including a calculation of the shortfall; however the Kindle doesn’t communicate the cause clearly, at all. Instead the error message is misleading.

Thanks to Amazon for a useful lesson learned about the value of clear error messages, and the confusion inaccurate messages cause.


PS: Sorry for the poor formatting where the HTML of the following message overlays part of this web page.

You have an insufficient gift card balance to proceed with the transaction. Please select your method of payment.

Pay with a new card Credit Card No. Cardholder’s Name Issue No / Start Date Expiry Date
Solo/Maestro only: If your card does not have an issue number please enter the start date (mm/yy) 
Gift card or promotional code
     (Learn more)
Enter a gift card or promotional code.

Order Summary
Journey to Academic Success and Beyond
[ Kindle Edition ]
Total: £3.99
Gift Card Balance: £0.42
Remainder Due: £3.57

Kindles accounts need Device Country and Delivery Address specifying

I hope I’ve managed to configure the amazon account used by these Kindles so they will now allow the teachers to buy books. I have tested the process by ‘buying’ a free book: Pride and Prejudice for both of their Kindles.
Here are a couple of extra steps I had to remember to do when creating another Amazon account for a new school.

  1. set up a delivery address without adding a credit card number (the default process wants one). Here’s the link I have to check and configure a delivery address Manage Address Book
  2. configuring the country of the account to the UK Country Settings

I was then able to ‘buy’ the book for the first time (before the Amazon web site told me even the free books were not available).

Here is the link to configure the country on the UK site (this may change given the strange parameters on the URL)*Version*=1&*entries*=0#cor

And here is one of several good articles online about the issue and the way to fix it and the following answer was a useful reminder for me

Amazon publishes various device-specific guides to configure a Kindle and the account e.g. for the Kindle Keyboard 

(last updated 25 October 2013)