All posts by msimamizi

Kindles and WiFi passwords

We noticed the Kindles sometimes fail to connect when we configure them with the correct WiFi password for the 3G Huawei routers. We’re not sure why this happens yet. The workaround is to repeat the registration several times (once you are sure you have entered the password correctly).

Some tips

  • If you have a smartphone, tablet computer, or a laptop, that has WiFi, try registering it on the network. Once you know it works, disable this WiFi network (or ‘forget it’ as Android phones say) otherwise you risk using lots of the network traffic inadvertently.
  • Double-check the password is entered correctly. Perhaps someone else can read out the password so you can check it. Then swap responsibilities.
  • Enter any letters in the correct case e.g. one of our WiFi passwords was a series of numbers followed by a single capital letter. Enter the capital letter as a capital letter.

3 passwords for Huawei WiFi routers

There are various passwords involved when configuring the Huawei routers we are using to provide rural WiFi for schools. You may be confused by which password is which and when do you need to use them.

Each password serves a specific purpose.

  1. The first, and the only one that’s commonly needed in the school, is the WiFi password. This is written on the inside of the cover on the WiFi device. We use this password when configuring e-readers, including Kindles, to connect to the WiFi. You also need the name of the network, this is also printed on the router.
  2. The second is the administrative password to  configure and manage the WiFi router. This is generally only needed for technical work; however some schools may want to monitor the usage of the mobile (3G) network, and they will need this password to do so. You also need the username of the administrator account. Details of the username and password are provided in the manual.
  3. The third password is actually a number, called the PIN. This is needed to unlock and enable the 3G SIM card fitted in the router. This PIN is generally configured by whoever is configuring the WiFi router (using the details of the administrative username and password).


Getting Started for a new School

This article helps get a new school up-and-running with e-readers. There are various things to take care of if you want to use the e-readers effectively and for long periods. We will cover the various topics to help you do so.

Keep the e-reader safe, charged, and protect it. Otherwise you might not have a working kindle when you want to use it. Cases are provided to protect the e-reader. When not using the e-reader, please make sure the case is closed, and fastened if it includes a fastener.

The e-reader can often be charged using a solar charger that includes a small battery to store the power from the solar panel and that provides power over a USB connection. Alternatively use the mains USB charger where you have mains power. Sometimes you may need to travel to a suitable location if your school doesn’t have power available.

For Amazon Kindles, one of the benefits is being able to download and buy electronic materials from the Amazon store. First you need an Amazon account, and the Kindle needs to be registered to this account. An account, and the electronic materials, can be shared across several Kindles. The most common recommendation is up to 5 Kindles can share an account. Doing so keeps the costs down as each purchase can be shared across the various registered Kindles.

Any purchases need to be paid for, the most practical way at the moment is to use Amazon Gift Certificates. These also need to be paid for by somebody, and added to the relevant Amazon account for this school. When you spend money, for instance by buying an electronic copy of a newspaper or a book, the money is gone from the account, unless you decide to cancel the purchase within a few minutes. A purchase by one person affects the entire account, so any purchase needs to be carefully considered and done wisely, otherwise you waste the limited money in the account.

Trap: We have noticed several schools have bought irrelevant or inappropriate books during the pilot phase of the project. In some cases purchases have wasted much of the budget for that school and meant they were not able to buy more relevant books when they needed to. Please clearly explain to whoever uses the Kindle what sorts of books are suitable to purchase and read. Also encourage them to use the following practices for any book they are interested in reading, especially if the item costs money.


Amazon provides several facilities to help you manage your purchases wisely:

  • You can ‘try a sample’ of a Kindle book. Please do so before you consider actually buying the book.
  • You can add books and other items to a wish list, then ask others to review the wish list to decide which items to buy this time. Other items then remain on the wish list so we can consider paying for them later on.

There are many thousands of books that are free to download and read. These include many ‘classics’. 

There needs to be a way to connect to the Amazon store, and to the Internet, from Amazon Kindles. The choices depend on the model of Kindle you have and what connection options it includes. Connection options are:

  • WiFi (for the less expensive models)
  • 3G (for old Kindle 2 devices)
  • 3G + WiFi (for the more expensive Kindle Keyboard 3, Kindle Touch, Kindle Paperwhite, etc.)

You need a WiFi connection for WiFi Kindles to connect. There are several options, which include:

  • Visiting a local Internet / Cyber cafe or another location where you are permitted to use their WiFi
  • Installing and using a local WiFi router. In rural Kenya we currently use 3G WiFi routers from a company called Huawei. These accept a 3G SIM card, similar to the ones used in a mobile phone. The 3G SIM card needs credit on the account and it’s cheaper if the credit is used to pre-pay for Internet access, for instance for 100MB of data. Like your mobile phone account, when you use the service, it costs money. This means you need to check the balance for the SIM card occasionally and top-up the account if it is running low on Internet credit. In this article we assume you have someone who is able to configure and commission the 3G WiFi router.

Find ways to learn from each other in your school, and from nearby schools who also use a similar service. That way you will be able to use the e-readers more effectively, share recommendations on how to use them for teaching, and share recommendations on good electronic materials to download and use.

Phase 1B of the pilot project

During the week of 13th May, we are doubling the number of e-readers in Oyugis with the schools, with another 7 devices available for the pilot schools. We also provided a 3G Wi-Fi router to enable one of the schools to have rural Wi-Fi so they can connect and use the Wi-Fi only Kindles directly without needing to visit the local Wi-Fi hotspot in Oyugis town after hours. The 3G Wi-Fi router includes an internal (removable) battery that enables the router to work for up to a school day without needing external power. And we also provided several solar storage devices (basically a USB-based battery unit that can store energy collected from the sun and provide it when needed).

We are going to decide on how to distribute the additional equipment in the coming days based on feedback from the schools and the project coordinators in Oyugis. Kachieng secondary school is likely to receive several additional devices based on their helpful reports and feedback. They have been able to explain why having the additional devices will help them with their teaching.

Evidence based?

One of the objectives for this project is to gather sufficient evidence about the project. The evidence can then be used:

  • to enable the project to be assessed in terms of the impact, applicability, etc.
  • to help us improve the project and the outcomes e.g. in terms of the effectiveness, and efficiency of what we do
  • To help others to learn from our experiences and our work so they (e.g. you) can build on the good bits and learn from anything else that’s relevant.

I recently read a brief report written by NESTA a UK based organisation. I recommend you read it. I found the simple Nesta Standards of Evidence figure is effective to help focus the work we’re doing. My impression is we’re working around Level 2 at the moment.

Level 1 states: “You can describe what you do and why it matters, logically, coherently and convincingly” while Level 2 states: “You capture data that shows positive change, but you cannot confirm you caused this”. We are capturing data, however we don’t have enough data to assess the effects of providing the devices to the schools yet.

Hubs, spokes, and cells

An overview of the per-school approach
An overview of the per-school approach

Our initial model[1] is to create a cell structure for each school. A school needs at least one eReader device, they may have more devices if the usage warrants and justifies more. Each device is configured with a shared Amazon account (which can be used to share content on up to 5 devices in parallel, according to Amazon’s web site). So a single purchase can be downloaded onto up to 5 devices and therefore any teacher can use any available device.

The cell is semi-autonomous. Publicly the school can share their wish list, and other Amazon users can search for an find that wish list. For instance here is amazon’s find a wish list link

The schools in the pilot project are:

  • Nyandiwa
  • Kachieng
  • Kalando

These names can be used to find their respective wish list. However, at the moment, does not allow us to purchase items on behalf of the schools from other Amazon accounts. Therefore, at the moment someone with access to their Amazon account needs to login using the respective account details to pay for items from the wish list; the schools do not have Internet access so it’s impractical for them to do so. Alternatively gift certificates can be used to credit the account and enable the school to purchase items autonomously. Once others can directly pay for items from a school’s wish list we can transition towards a more federated, independent system with no centralised authority or arbiter of purchases, etc.

Services such as Amazon’s whispercast make content distribution easier using a hub and spoke distribution model (where content can be distributed to one or more groups of accounts). This service currently limited to the US amazon market.

[1] model = an approach, design, or hierarchy (pick whichever word seems most appropriate) that represents how we structure the use of the device(s) and Amazon account for a school


Why focus on teachers?

There are some excellent projects in various countries which have inspired me (Julian) while I’ve been working on this project. Most of these focus on helping the pupils, the children. I admire their work and believe our work may complement some of their projects. However, for a mix of reasons this project focuses on the teachers instead.

  • By helping the teachers we help ‘this’ generation, who teach and help the ‘next’ generation. Both benefit.
  • We can do more with less, each teacher teaches between 40 and 60 pupils. We cannot afford to fund or support one device per child at this stage; rather we are helping in aggregate teachers in 6 schools, so many hundreds of children with only 6 eReaders.

I have enjoyed quotations about educating ‘a girl’, for instance “Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.”, found online at

In this case the aim is to educate the teachers to educate and help the community.

The following web page has plenty of quotes on teachers


Collecting data during the pilot project

One of the aims of the pilot project is to learn and refine the project, another is to help guide the next phases of the project. Data can help provide concrete information, both now and historically. Given the distributed geographic nature of the project and team, the limited facilities to gather data from the devices, etc. we are using a mix of low-tech and technical approaches to data gathering. We have the permission of the schools and the team in Kenya to publish copies of their notes and reports.

Low-tech data gathering includes handwritten notes in a small notebook. Each device has one of these notebooks. We asked the teachers to make a written note each time they use the eReader; while we acknowledge they may not always do so, we have already been encouraged by the relatively frequent notes they have made during the first two months of the pilot.

Two pages of handwritten notes
Example of notes made about using the eReader

We also have limited information available on how far someone has read through each book, by using the automatic synchronisation facility provided by the Kindle service. The details of the wishlist for each account, and the book purchases are also tracked by each account. Note: a book is ‘purchased’ even if the price is £0.00

Leonard also visits the schools and interviews the teachers quite frequently and we have received several formal reports from senior teaching staff e.g. headteachers. Here is an example of a short report from Kachieng Secondary School. They provide a good example of how an additional device would help their teaching.

Photograph of handwritten report from Kachieng Secondary School
Kachieng Secondary School report 12 April 2013


Inaugural Workshop – February 2013 – Oyugis

Photo of teachers from the various schools
A schoolroom setting for the launch of the pilot project

On Valentine’s Day we launched the pilot program with 3 pairs of schools. Each pair consists of a primary school (8 years of schooling from 5 years old) and a secondary school (which covers 4 years of schooling). The Kenyan schooling is known as 8+4+4 with the final 4 years intended for university or college.

We held a workshop with teachers from the 6 schools, and with various school governors, the local chief, a representative from the district education, and various senior pastors, together with several people from the UK and several local staff of the charities we support.

Two teachers sharing a Kindle to discover ways to use it
Two of the teachers, discovering capabilities of the Kindle
Julian with teachers and staff
Sharing ideas with some of the teachers

I (Julian) ended up taking charge of the teachers during their tutorial / experimentation which was fun and surprisingly effective.The teachers has 2 sessions where they experimented with the devices to learn how they could be used. At the end of each session various teachers shared some of their discoveries with the teachers from the other schools. This helped them to realise they have more to gain from being open and collaborating, than if they kept their discoveries private.

The teachers each signed for the devices as part of establishing the formal pilot project and so they realise they’re now responsible for them. The don’t have to repay anything if the equipment is lost or damaged though. That wouldn’t be useful or productive… They each have a copy of a guide on how to maintain their device and keep it safe. They seemed very excited to use the eReaders.


In Kenya there are 2 people helping with the ongoing support: Leonard who liaises with the teachers and is helping encourage and support them to use the devices productively, and Jeremiah who deals with the technical aspects e.g. establishing Wi-Fi connectivity and helping with charging the devices where the school has no suitable power. We left Jeremiah with the spare Kindle.

Here is a link to an article written by Leonard after the workshop.


Wishlists and Payments

One of the first major challenges for this project is how to address payments. Very few people in rural Kenya have bank accounts or credit cards. They don’t have much money either, the region is classified in financial terms as being at the bottom of the pyramid[1]. All this means we need to find alternatives to the ‘register your credit card or bank account for automatic billing’ approach often used in the USA, UK, etc.

In my view, Kenya has one of the most advanced micro-payment systems globally, through the m-pesa service and similar mechanisms from the various mobile network providers in Kenya. And micro-payments via mobile phones is ubiquitous in Kenya, including in the rural areas.

Publishers, rightly need to be paid for their work, unless they choose to provide the material without charge. So we have a conundrum, how to pay for the materials for the teachers… And for this project we shouldn’t assume the teachers, or their schools, can afford or pay for the material. A typical teaching book costs around $10 on Amazon.

We initiated the project by creating accounts for the schools where we provide some credit of £25 (around $40 USD) using gift certificates. The school teachers can then choose to use the credit to pay for several books, and there are lots of books, including the ‘classics’ available free-of-charge.

We need ways to defend against uncapped spending, a Kindle user does not need to authenticate themselves to buy items from Amazon, so they don’t need to enter a password or other security information – money is simply deducted from the credit balance or any linked credit card or bank account. Because we use gift cards and we don’t configure the Amazon accounts with either bank accounts or credit cards, the maximum financial risk is the remaining balance from the gift certificates.

We would like to find ways to enable teachers, and other people with access to micro-payment services in Kenya, to be able to contribute towards or entirely pay for eBooks and other items e.g. newspapers, journals, etc. The most popular micro-payment service is m-pesa from Safaricom, the other Kenyan mobile network providers have similar services. The report from iHub Research[1] provides some useful background information on the use of micro-payments. We have approached Amazon and various publishers and online book selling sites aimed at the Kenyan market to explore these possibilities. They would help to enable the teachers, and people involved in the schooling in the country, to take more ownership of the project.

Wishlists are part of the Amazon service. They provide an elegant way for whoever wants an item to track these requests and to share the requests with other people. In our case, the teachers are encouraged to add items to their wishlist, that’s linked to their Kindle account. We, and other people who would like to support the project can then pick books from the wishlist and pay for them. The requestor (a teacher in one of the schools in Kenya) then receives the book the next time they use the device to connect online. There are some restrictions for Amazon accounts on the Amazon UK site that make it harder for people to buy books for another Amazon account. As far as we know Amazon accounts on the USA site don’t have this restriction.

We would prefer the ability for people to buy Kindle books as gifts for other Amazon accounts, i.e. accounts that work like those on the USA site, as it makes the approval and purchasing more decentralised and enables it to scale further. For instance, a sponsor could fund various books for a school by picking them from that school’s shared wishlist, without any need for intermediaries.

Using wishlists is an effective way to spend the very limited funds wisely, particularly for shared devices, and currently each of our devices may be shared with around 10 teachers at a school.

Another effective mechanism is the ability to download a sample of Kindle books. The teacher can then read the first section of the book to help decide if the book is worth ordering. However we have noticed some samples have very little of the book’s content, possibly for copyright or other commercial reasons? When there is little content the teacher is effectively buying blind – i.e. without being able to read a useful sample first.


[1] The following report, written by iHub Research in Kenya, covers mobile phone usage at the base of the pyramid. It provides a good overview of many relevant factors for this project. It can be downloaded from the World Bank blog here. Other web sites have links to it too.