Hundreds of handheld audio computers are to be given to some of Ghana’s poorest communities to help spread potentially life-saving information.
The Talking Books will let families play sound files as well as make their own recordings, which can be shared with others or used to give feedback.
Organisers plan to use the kit to teach people about Ebola, how to deal with diseased crops and the importance of breastfeeding, among other topics.
If successful, the trial should expand.
Child-focused charity Unicef and the British computer chip designer ARM are providing most of the funds for the $750,000 (£477,850) scheme.
It is scheduled to run for two-and-a-half years with each device’s content updated roughly once every five weeks.
The money will cover the cost of 2,000 devices and the staff to support them, with the goal that they will be used by about 40,000 people.
“Over 80% of Ghana’s population is covered by mobile networks, but there are those who are too poor, too young or too old to afford a phone – and this will provide a way to communicate with some of the most vulnerable people,” commented Thecla Mbongue, from the tech consultancy Ovum.
“People living in extreme poverty will still have access to the radio, but it is true that the programmes might not provide the exact information that they need.”
However, another expert was more critical, suggesting the Talking Books were “missing a trick”.
“An ink-based monochrome screen, which may only cost a few dollars to add, would allow illiterate people to try and read along with the audio, giving them an opportunity to build literacy skills through general use of the device,” said Ken Banks, who advises the UK’s Department for International Development.
“Rather than just assuming that illiterate people will likely always be illiterate, why not integrate something into this device which will actually help them develop skills, rather than just passively listening and never having the chance to learn to read.
“Older Kindles do text-to-voice, they work offline, their ink-based screens work brilliantly in bright sunlight, and the battery lasts for a month or more. They’re a great example, for me, of an appropriate technology in this setting.”