The digital solution to an old but serious enemy: illiteracy




OLBIOS: How would you describe the collective experience of the coronavirus crisis in your region and what has struck you the most about it? 

Elvis Austins: Illiteracy has been one of the major crisis facing Africa. Although illiteracy is a global problem its negative effect can be found mostly in developing countries and sadly, sub-Sahara Africa is a key destination. 

What is sadder is that there is a thin line between illiteracy and poverty. But the good news is that in recent years, there is a growing opportunity for millions of people to be mass-educated due to technology. Technology is mostly mobile-based has paved a new road for the people at the base of the pyramid to drastically developed and learn new skills.

O: On a social level, has this crisis been an eye-opener and an opportunity for important insights and significant changes and lessons to be learned in many domains? Could you give one or more examples?

E.A. What is interesting is to see the rise of social entrepreneurs coming out from almost every corner of Africa. This is a big eye-opener as for the very first time, many people are not working on providing solutions and services that can solve this crisis. 

From social to the environmental crises there are a lot of lessons and insights to be learned. Although most of these solutions are not perfect yet, the good news is that locals are willing to try something and put in their best bet to make it work.

O: Tell us about your work on AΙ for Good and if you think it is likely to become more complex or more relevant after the crisis.

E.A. : Having spent the last 5 years developing cutting edge solutions in the educational space, I am optimistic that AI is the way forward for developing nations. The idea for a PDLT (Personal Digital Language Tutor) was born out of a desire to make sure everyone is Africa can read and write. 

But how can they when there are 50,000 students to 1 teacher in Benin city, my place of birth. The only solution is to make the solution digital. Think of the PDLT like a mobile that can is designed specially to teach literacy to millions of youths across Africa. All they need is a mobile phone. Any cheap smartphone will do.

We built a prototype and it worked successfully but due to COVID the project is on hold until work returns to normal.

O: On a personal level, has this crisis changed your focus on what really matters and on future plans and courses of action?

E.A. I happened to be a victim of the poor standard of education in my country but dedication and hard words changed my narrative. I know a lot of people are still being affected and that is why I am the right person to provide a solution. 

This crisis has made me understand that there are a lot of smart and intelligent people out there that are being held back by the problem of literacy. I plan to devise any solutions or join other organizations that are working to fight the great enemy of development which is literacy.

Elvis Austins, Founder of PDLT,  is a social entrepreneur who works on AI for Good