How one notebook can change the world

Through sales of the Writable, hopes to provide needy schoolchildren with numeracy, literacy and computer skills.
Through sales of the Writable, hopes to provide needy schoolchildren with numeracy, literacy and computer skills.

Cape Town-based social innovation start-up,, is encouraging literacy, numeracy and basic computer skills development among disadvantaged schoolchildren.

Founded by Adrian Myburgh, Jason Bagley and Richard Mulholland,' goal was to create a real-world product that would provide sustainable support to communities in need - and so the Writable notebook was born.

For each copy of the Writable sold, will donate 10 books to needy schools, under the catchphrase “Changing the world, one wee, square notebook at a time”.

The books for the first print run of the Writable are Xhosa exercise books, destined for Khayelitsha learners, that will include tools for reading and writing in both Xhosa and English, drawing and colouring, basic maths, a typing tool to encourage early familiarisation with computers, and dotted pages for free thinking, writing and drawing.

The typing tool is inspired by Taddy Blecher, founder of CIDA City Campus, SA's first virtually free higher education institution, who made photocopies of his keyboard and handed them out to students to teach them how to type. As there were no computers at the school at the time, Blecher taught the learners to type by singing Bob Marley and Michael Jackson songs to them, and had them type out the words as he sang.

[EMBEDDED]When the school was given computers, learners who had never seen computers before were typing 30 words a minute.' standpoint is that even a rudimentary understanding of the keyboard will be beneficial to these children.

Replicating this idea, the inside back page of the schoolbooks will feature a printed keyboard with the words 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog' on the opposite page. “We also have space for the kids to write in their favourite Xhosa parables from the book,” says Mulholland.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, says: “The developers of the notebook understand the same fundamental reality that Taddy identified: comfort and familiarity with an interface overcomes the most significant barrier to computer literacy.”

He notes, however, that the keyboard wasn't a photocopy, but rather a diagram of a standard keyboard, as witnessed in a demo.

Deep-seated issues

According to Goldstuck, the proposal is a charity model and not a business model, appearing to only allow for a trickle-down effect. “What is needed is for such initiatives to flood the market, or at least the schools that do not have computer facilities. That's not a criticism of as much as of the poor state of educational facilities.

“Something like this shouldn't even be needed, yet it is. It highlights the fact that, if state funds were more effectively deployed, and wastage, corruption and inability to procure addressed, the crisis in educational facilities could be overcome in a year.”

Whole-brain thinking

Myburgh says: “Depending on the needs of the schools and the age of the children in the class, the type of books will vary; however, whole-brain thinking and our passion for writing, doodling and ideas will be a component of every book, in whatever form it might take.”

The whole-brain thinking he alludes to is made possible by the dotted pages of the Writable.

Mulholland explains: “Writers are more prone to go for lined pages, whereas those of us who like to doodle and draw prefer a blank page; we don't believe your brain should have to choose. The dotted page accommodates both, and more importantly, it encourages the user to employ whole-brain note-taking.”

Education analyst Graeme Bloch is supportive of the project, saying: “Any initiative that improves school results should be encouraged; all attention paid to children and learning. ICT and computers are essential for progress in the modern world, so helping learners understand aspects of computers is important. A bonus is the donation of material that will occur.”

Initially, the focus will be on Ikamva Labantu, a community-focused organisation that provides independent education to more than 100 informal schools, says Mulholland.

The Writable can be pre-ordered here for $20 each (about R168). Click here to view a video on the Writable concept.

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Read time 3min 50sec
Tarryn Giebelmann

Tarryn Giebelmann, ITWeb's Sub-Editor

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