25 December 2012

Rwanda: Baby Tips or Computer Science, There's an APP for That

As anyone who is or has been a parent of a baby or toddler will know, they are strange creatures. They can behave oddly, or cry for no apparent reason, leaving parents worried that something might be seriously wrong - when in fact baby is just having its first teeth.

In days of old, parents would scramble to the phone to call their parents or friends for advice. Today, it's the phone itself that comes to the rescue. A neat little app called WebMD Baby, available for free at Apple's App Store and Google Play, proves to be bliss for any new parent. It's like having a pediatrician in your pocket, giving new parents quick access to trusted and physician-approved baby health and wellness information anytime, anywhere.

Personalized for a baby's specific age, the WebMD Baby app is an exhaustive free resource for everything baby related: gear, weekly guides, milestones, illnesses, checkup schedule, and more. It also features a comprehensive set of tools like height/weight measurements, feeding schedules, sleep timer, and diaper tracker, as well as a personal baby book, allowing parents to organize and share the child's memorable moments as they happen.

Thanks to WebMD Baby, for instance, I know that in about 2 weeks my cooing and babbling 9-month-old son is likely going to start calling me "dada" for the first time, and that that's a good time for me to teach him a little sign language - which is easier to learn than words.

Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are much more personal and intimate than a laptop or desktop. For most users, their phones are never out of their sight, 24/7. This is the case in classrooms too. Nearly all universities and colleges in Rwanda allow students to use mobile phones (in silent mode) in class, and students are taking advantage to boost their knowledge.

"I like using the Wikipedia app for research", says Jeannette Murekatete, a computer science student at ULK. "I'm recommending the app because it is faster and it can get you all the necessary educative materials needed."

But educational apps here in Rwanda, she continues, are only usable for some university students because few young people have a smartphone. "For example, when I was in the 3rd year, where we are all supposed to be geeks, only 6 out of 72 students had one."

She says that she uses the Wikipedia app in 2 ways. "A teacher can ask 'What's the waterfall model in terms of software development phase?' Maybe I was absent the day he explained it, so what I do is launch the app, search and then answer the question. You won't ever forget something you learned that way. I also use the app to understand some technical terms."

College at home

Educational mobile apps can also open a great opportunity for those who have always dreamed of going to renowned colleges such as MIT and Stanford. If you're the owner of any Apple mobile device, then you can download the free 'iTunes U' app and regardless of the operating system, you can then benefit from these institutes' lectures with iTunes.

"To give you an idea, this single MIT course: Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, would provide an understanding of CS [Computer Science] fundamentals that far exceeds what is taught in the four year programs at the Rwandan universities," Nicholas Pottier, one of the American founders of the software company Nyaruka and mentor at kLab, once wrote on his blog in a post called Learning to Swim by Reading a Book, the State of CS Education in Rwanda.

He was astonished that when Nyaruka decided to hire an intern, but all 50 applicants from various local universities failed to answer simple coding questions, like writing a function to return whether a number is odd or even, and simple string manipulations. "This is the state of computer science in Rwanda (and really the region in general)," he wrote.

Luckily, all you must remember is that there's always an educational app for everything - and it's never too late. Just visit the Google Play, App Store and browse the "Education" section. You won't regret virtually sitting in the Stanford's classrooms attended by Steve Jobs, Sergei Brin and Larry Page.

But it doesn't always have to be so heavy. Most Rwandan adults have grown up in an environment where it was very difficult to get your hands on any children's story book. Not so for children of the digital age. Just download the free interactive app iStoryBooks, and they will be quiet for hours on end. While their parents try to find out what baby's slight cough might mean.

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