In Africa as elsewhere in the world, the question of the heaviness of school bags and its consequences on the health of students is a major concern.

In fact, students are condemned to wear school bags full of effects every day: books, notebooks, geometry instruments, etc.

And it is estimated that these school bags are the cause of various health problems in children: back pain, scoliosis (deformation of the spine), slower growth, body aches, fatigue …)

In fact, an article published in September 2014 in Le Quotidien d’Oran indicates that during the 2012-2013 school year, some 300 cases of scoliosis were recorded among students aged 10 to 14 years in this region of the North. west of Algeria.

Cited in the article, the School Health Units of the Directorate of Health and Population put these distortions mainly on the account of the weight of school bags.

In addition to bearing the weight of these loads, several children end the school year with missing, degraded or destroyed effects through use.

To solve this equation, a young Ivorian computer scientist, Thierry N’Douffou, 37, invented Qelasy (1), the first educational tablet in Africa, officially launched in 2014 in Abidjan.

It is a tool whose use should make it possible to reduce the burden of the schoolbag to the absolute minimum, or even cancel it; through the digitization of textbooks, which account for most of the weight of the schoolbag.

“Qelasy was designed to reconcile school in Africa with technology. The idea came to us from our professional journey where we realized that there has been no real impact of digital technology on education, unlike other fields such as health and entertainment. This tool improves and optimizes teaching, “explains Thierry N’Douffou.

“This tablet replaces the school bag for students because it contains all the books and allows students to access the internet and libraries. It must be said that Qelasy was born from a heartbreak, because as a parent, it was painful to see our children going to school with big bags of 7 or 8 kilograms, “continues the person concerned .

“So we wondered why not design something that will not only be lighter, but that will contain thousands of books that these children could access,” he said.

The device that is assembled in China is available in three models: one for the little ones, another for middle and high school students, and the last for students.

Wrapped in a silicone shell to withstand impact, the 8-inch device is waterproof; which would allow it, according to its designer, to withstand bad weather, dust, but also heat.

It can withstand temperatures above 55 degrees, 10 degrees higher on average than conventional tablets.

With a 16 gigabyte file storage memory, Qelasy has an 8 hour battery life.

Its operation is such that the teacher has a kind of “ubiquity gift”, which allows him from his station to see everything that is happening in real time on each student’s tablet.

“So from that moment on, he can see who is doing what, and stop the one who intends to cheat,” said the inventor of Qelasy.
It is also noted that the tablet, whose size has been designed to hold between small and large hands, is characterized above all by its ease of use.

The parent defines the possible uses, including the hours at which they can be used, as well as restrictions on the use of the Internet.

Once this setting is installed, the device is given to the child who can consult a set of books already dematerialized.

“We also have the possibility of adding multimedia elements to these books, to truly immerse the child in what he is learning, allow him to be even more immersed in the course, to be more engaged, to be happy to learn, ”notes Thierry N’Douffou.

In addition, “the tablet is made so that even a child who is just starting their learning cycle can access their books with just a touch of a finger,” he says.

“With his little fingers, the student presses a button that shows him his library, he can then recognize the cover of the book he is going to use,” he explains.


“A great experience”
Thus, while saving dematerialized books from the wear and tear of time and the effects of manipulation, this digital schoolbag which weighs only about 480 grams allows the education sector to adapt to the technological evolution of the moment.

According to its promoters, this device is already used in nearly 200 schools, notably in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Niger and Morocco.

One of the schools that already use this digital tablet is the Raggi Anne Marie Institute (IRMA) of Grand Bassam in Abidjan. And for Patrice Dally, its director, Qelasy is a “great experience”.

“We save time in explanations, since all the possible illustrations for a course are available. For example, a course in geography on the relief allows us to play a video on mountains. And it creates a lot more motivation in children, ”he explains.

Revealing in passing that last year, a 3rd year pilot class set up by the school to test the tablet achieved an 80% success rate in the Undergraduate Study Certificate (BEPC).

This appreciation is shared by the students themselves. Today in the second literary class, Caroline Soro M. who has been using Qelasy since last year judges the tool “very practical”.

“It allows me to go beyond the teacher’s lessons; especially in a subject like English. I was able to increase my average from 11 to 16, “she says.

As for Richard Gahuidi, professor of history and geography, he is delighted that the tablet takes into account several aspects of teaching a lesson.

“Before talking to the kids,” he said, “I spend a few minutes on historical facts. So that the children understand the following lesson more quickly. And we save time ”

However, users of the tablet believe that some of its characteristics would benefit from being improved.

Rais Daly, in charge of training and computer equipment at IRMA, finds for example his screen too fragile for an educational instrument called to be manipulated by children.

“Once it falls with a certain force, its screen breaks and we have to change tablets,” he laments, hoping that the next versions will be more solid.

He also believes that pre-saving certain educational resources such as videos to the tablet is not effective.
Battery life
“These items must first be stored on the school server, so that the teacher can retrieve them and send them to the students at the appropriate time,” he suggests.

For her part, Caroline Soro M. finds that the battery of the device does not have a sufficiently long autonomy.

Israel Guebo Yoroba, a teacher of new media at the Institute of Communication Science and Technology (ISTC), draws attention to the issue of computer security regarding this tablet.

“Like the telephone, the tablet also has its downsides. Its use must be regulated and supervised, in accordance with the data protection law in Côte d’Ivoire, “he advises.

And to specify: “It is a question of ensuring that parents and carers are fully involved in the management of this tablet. Question of encrypting it so that we can not install any application there. So that the applications installed there are for educational use only. We must not leave this framework, otherwise we risk getting lost. ”

Above all, the director of IRMA believes that Qelasy is a tool adapted to the school and educational environment and which deserves to be popularized.

On May 29, 2015, the Minister of National Education and Technical Education, Kandia Camara, launched the pilot phase of a project to integrate Qelasy into the primary school of Clouétcha BAD located in the district of Abobo in Abidjan.

This project is part of the “e-education” program of the Ivorian government, aimed at a progressive integration of ICT in teaching methods.

“Children know how to text and surf the net. What we want is to train them to be also educated through ICT. And we are happy to provide laptops or tablets to children in a deprived area, so that they can learn about learning through ICT, “said Silué Nanzouan, Director of Pedagogy and Continuing Education Ministry of National Education and Technical Education.

For the latter, the other advantage of the tablet, “is the learning of subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic, which pose a lot of problems for students currently in Côte d’Ivoire, especially during the preparatory course”.

In his opinion, the use of this support for reading is more pleasant for the child with the addition of animation and interactivity which allow him to know very quickly whether he is wrong or not.

Likewise, children can learn math by playing; which, according to Silué Nanzouan, will create additional motivation among them, since calculating now becomes a game.

For this pilot phase, the Abou Clouétcha BAD school was equipped with a digital class welcoming around fifty students in the first year of middle school (CM1).

Each of them has received a digital tablet and until the installation of technical equipment is completed, they are taught to familiarize themselves with this digital schoolbag.

“For the moment, we are teaching children to use the tablet, that is, to turn it on, to turn it off, to also browse its functions,” said Mathieu Dogbo, the school principal.

“When the equipment is installed,” he continues, “we will be able to start teaching using these devices which will allow the child to have an opening to the world and to prepare to face secondary and higher education.” “.

The equipment in question includes, among other things, a server which controls the entire system, a digital board which receives images from a video projector and a visualizer which allows the teacher to share documents with the students via networks (Wi-Fi, bluetooth , fiber optic, cable) that connect the whole.

This device takes advantage of the fact that in West Africa, “80% of the population has access to mobile Internet. 3G works in big cities and the Edge in small municipalities and in the countryside. This tablet can therefore be used in village schools, “said Thierry N’Douffou.
Once everything is ready, students will be able to take full advantage of this new teaching approach which will considerably reduce the volume of lessons to be copied.

On the evaluation side, we learn that they are supposed to be done from tablets; but for now, users have opted for both.

That is to say that the homework will be done on paper, but the lesson exercises will be done via the tablets; the teacher sending exercises from his device that the student is treating …

In the meantime, Israel Guebo Yoroba, the specialist in new media, already believes that it is high time that we take the step towards digital in Ivorian schools.

“This pilot project is a very good thing. In any case, the education system is doomed to meet digital. This will allow children to familiarize themselves with digital technology from an early age, ”he says.
Cost deemed out of reach
According to Silué Nanzouan, in the event of satisfaction at the end of this pilot phase, the government plans to equip, in the long term, all the establishments of the country of this tool, both in primary and secondary.

” We are working. And the next manuals that will be produced will have a digital version. So gradually, we are moving towards digital tools. The schoolbag will be reduced more and more. But we will do it over time, ”he suggests.

We learn that after Abobo, schools in the departments of Akoupé (south), Adzopé (south), Adiaké (south-east) will in turn host digital classes.

“We are going to analyze all of the results of these experiments,” said Silué Nanzouan.

Still, the price of this equipment amounts to 180,000 FCFA (nearly 328 dollars) per unit on the local market; a cost deemed out of reach for the average Ivorian.

“If we want to give our children the best possible chance when they finish school, it is good to invest in quality education. If we think that the health of children is a priority, and that we want to avoid their back and chest diseases due to the heavy weight of the schoolbag, I think that we should not hesitate to invest, ”reacts Thierry N’Douffou for whom “quality education is priceless”.

And the interested party to propose a solution approach: “the parents of the pupils of private schools pay for the material themselves, but when the tablets are used in public establishments, the State will be able to subsidize them. ”

Pending the option that will ultimately be retained at the end of the pilot phase, the use of Qelasy promises to give a boost to the “m-learning” project (mobile learning – mobile learning) that the Ivorian government wants to deploy introduce mobile phones into the process of student learning and in-service teacher training.


(1) The name Qelasy is a phonological deformation of the word “class”, as pronounced in the Baoulé dialect (Center of the Ivory Coast).

This article was produced by in collaboration with the Ivorian Press Agency (AIP), with the support of the Wellcome Trust.

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