United Methodist college and university students in Africa will soon have a unique, affordable tool to help them study. After nearly two years of discussions and research, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the African Association of Methodist Institutions of Higher Education (AAMIHE) have procured 1,000 custom e-readers to give to students at 11 colleges and universities throughout Africa.
The new program, “E-Readers for Higher Education,” is similar to a previous tablet program called “E-Readers for Theological Education” that GBHEM sponsored in its role as the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, but this is the first time the e-readers have been specially designed to meet the needs of students in a specific region.
Many African students come from rural areas with limited electricity and the program enables them to use solar-charged mobile devices to reach the internet. Like all college students, they also face the ever-rising cost of textbooks, and access to e-books and virtual libraries can make their education much more affordable. GBHEM and AAMIHE began the first phase of the “E-Readers for Higher Education” program with these challenges in mind.
“The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry serves the entire global church. Our role is to nurture faithful Methodists of all backgrounds and provide the resources to help them become principled Christian leaders,” said Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary of GBHEM. “We are excited to help improve access to higher education for students across Africa through this new collaboration with AAMIHE.”
Eleven AAMIHE member institutions initiated the program in 2017 with a vote to implement tablet testing at their schools. Participating institutions include Africa University in Zimbabwe, the United Methodist University in Mozambique, Wesley University in Nigeria and Wesley College in Tanzania, among others.
After testing and experimenting with tablets of various makes and models for the project over the course of a year, the schools assessed which features and capabilities were the most useful to their students.
Ultimately, the AAMIHE members concluded that the optimal tablet for their students needed to have the following features:
- Pre-loaded AAMIHE content available in English, French and Portuguese
- Direct connectivity with existing United Methodist virtual libraries
- Access to major apps like the Kindle App
- Solar charging capability
- A SIM card so that it could act as a mobile hot spot
- Audio-visual and recording capabilities
Rather than adapting an existing tablet brand to their needs, AAMIHE found that the most affordable option was to contract with developers in the United States and China and create a low-cost tablet designed specifically for their schools. The Azpen e-reader, the first tablet created just for AAMIHE students, was born.
With the help of facilitators from GBHEM, the first 1,000 Azpens were delivered in a single batch to AAMIHE members attending the special General Conference in St. Louis in February. Each participating institution purchased its own Azpens and after consulting with various bishops and educational leaders, AAMIHE and GBHEM decided to have them delivered in one shipment during General Conference to save on the overall delivery cost. Now that the conference has concluded, delegates have carried their schools’ individual orders home with them and are distributing them to students.
As they monitor the success of the initial Azpen delivery, AAMIHE and GBHEM hope to be able to expand the use of the tablet in the future and continue evolving the device to best meet the needs of students throughout Africa.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call in their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.
About AAMIHE: The African Association of Methodist Institutions of Higher Education includes 22 colleges and universities affiliated with Wesleyan and Methodist churches in Africa.