VS-Pi Content

Imagine a small black box with only a single wire connecting it to the wall power. The Open Wi-Fi signal emanating from it is a free stream of information, to which anyone in the vicinity with a computer, tablet or smartphone, can connect.

This is a VS-Pi Server.

“Content” is the final post of a three-part series about the VS-Pi Server that is being developed by Village Science. In this post, Founder Justin Spelman explains the importance of having content available in the local language, and gives a preview of what we’re installing for our pilot projects in Laos. The first article in the series, by former Chairman Justin Lancy, takes you on a journey of curiosity with “Wherever it Takes You,” and in the second article, Nick Wynja gives a tour of the nuts and bolts with “Under the Hood.”

Village Science is co-developing the VS-Pi server with students in developing countries to create inexpensive information hotspots that make it possible for students to access offline educational materials. For example, a VS-Pi server installed at a local library gives students offline access to curated educational materials in their own language. A server located in the same room as the users allows webpages to download quickly, and with recent advances in technology — like Raspberry Pi computers — it is now possible to do this for less than the price of a classroom set of books.

VS-Pi server, created with Raspberry Pi.

VS-Pi server, created with Raspberry Pi.

This might not seem like a big deal to people in developed countries with tools like fast Internet connections and Wikipedia at their disposal, but a typical Laotian student doesn’t have Internet access and there are very few digital Lao materials available. Accessible information from a local VS-Pi server is a game-changer.

Imagine if your only option was trying to navigate a computer and use webpages written in foreign characters, all through a dial-up connection. These obstacles are a tribute to the determination of Laotian students, who continue to overcome them in order to access information in foreign languages.

We are working to eliminate some of these obstacles with our Content Partners, as we pre-load the VS-Pi Servers with appropriate videos, documents and interactive tools in local languages. Our guiding principles in selecting and curating content for the education servers are as follows:

Materials are in the local language. To get the most out of an educational experience, the content must be in a language that the student understands. We’re searching for quality local language content with our partners, but we are also initiating projects for students to create their own content. The user interface has been translated to the local language so a student’s experience is comfortable. We have also translated the administrative backend, so content authors and managers can manage and grow the content easily, in their own language.

Video is the preferred format. With over sixty ethnolinguistic groups living in Laos, video content is accessible to the widest audience possible, as it can also be understood through visual cues. Video content supports learners with low levels of literacy, and ethnic minorities who are interested in learning the official Lao language.

Content is relevant and culturally appropriate. The reality of a teenage girl living in Laos and one living in the USA are vastly different. We work with the students and teachers who will be using this content in order to create and curate material that is appropriate for the local reality. We’re aiming for “How-To” content that directly addresses a person’s interests: How do I learn about computers? How do I learn English? How do I start composting? How can I solve fractions?

Materials are created locally. Content that is adapted and translated from western sources often doesn’t mesh well with the cultures and belief systems of Southeast Asia. Through our participatory workshops, we’re teaching the skills for students and teachers to create their own content.

Custom art, created for Village Science's VS-Pi by Sengdao, a Lao artist.

Custom art, created for Village Science’s VS-Pi by Sengdao, a Lao artist.

We are creating Partner Channels to highlight the existing content that meets these guidelines. Here are some examples of digital content from our partners that we’re hosting on the Lao VS-Pi server:

ນິທານພື໊ນບ້ານເຜົ່າຕາໂອ້ຍ Ta-Oy-folktales sponsored by the GAPE organization
Intellectual Property Rights by Ka Xiong
ການຈັບຄູ່ຂອງເລກສ່ວນ Fractions Matcher by PhET
ການລອຍຕົວຂອງຄວາມຮ້ອນ Science of Mixing by students at The Language Project

Interested in becoming a Content Partner? Have content that we should be using? Got suggestions and ideas? Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!