Windows of opportunity: How kiosks are supporting underserved and neglected populations

| by Nicole Troxell
 Windows of opportunity: How kiosks are supporting underserved and neglected populations

Uganda's Digital Drum kiosk, a collaboration between UNICEF and Design Without Borders

Although many consumers equate kiosks with convenience and the offering of supplemental services, kiosk technology often plays a pivotal role in delivering critical information or services that sometimes cannot be garnered any other way. This is particularly true when it comes to underserved and neglected populations in the US and around the globe.

What follows are four examples of kiosk technology being utilized in efforts to help those at risk for insufficient education, poverty, unemployment, and more.

Passing the test

Windows of Opportunity: That's the name of the upcoming exhibit sponsored by Detroit-based nonprofit St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center at the Detroit Historical Museum, and it's also what the Center is hoping to provide its patrons by way of an interactive kiosk.

The organization has served the educational needs of the city's underserved population since 1844. Today, it provides an array of services and programs, all "designed to build self-sufficiency skills for academic and employment success, personal achievement and dignity" – including a free, personalized Adult GED Program.

Its October art opening will showcase a dozen of the Center's stained-glass windows, which symbolize opportunities education can provide through depictions of classic nursery rhymes.

But the event is also featuring the "windows" of modern technology: an interactive kiosk.

"The kiosk has a specific role in the exhibit in terms of informing the visitors just how challenging it is to take the GED test on your own, in an electronic format and in a timed scenario," said Diane Renaud, CEO and executive director of SVSF. "The goal is to help the visitors understand the importance of what the SVSF Center does in terms of tutoring children and helping adults get ready to take the test."

The Center's kiosk operates on an interactive touchscreen locked down to a preloaded program to enhance the guests' experience of the exhibit. Users can not only register to win a reproduction of one of the Center's stained-glass windows, but also test their own knowledge of the GED. 

"We also hope that our kiosk can be used as a tool for mainstream educators since a common misperception is that the GED is easier," said Renaud.

"Students can visit the kiosk, take the test and realize that the test is actually more difficult than staying in school and graduating," she added.

By mixing the old – its stained glass – with the new – hands-on kiosk technology – SVSF hopes to paint a fuller picture of the skills that clients gain at the Center. 

The beat of the drum

UNICEF's education initiative in Uganda spawned the Digital Drum solution: rugged, solar-powered kiosks made from repurposed oil drums built to withstand harsh weather conditions.

The kiosks, designed by Design Without Borders, provide public computer access to educational materials both on- and offline. They're housed in community centers, education hubs, business centers and teachers colleges throughout Uganda, particularly in remote and rural, off-grid areas.

Less than 10 percent of Ugandans use the Internet, particularly those in rural communities as well as those living in poor urban areas, reports UNICEF.

The kiosk design is practical and sturdy, with the oil drums functioning as circular platforms. Counters added to the top of the drums are segmented into three booths. Each booth comprises a computer with a microphone, keyboard, speakers, webcam and a USB charging port. The three screens are encased in scratch-resistant Plexiglas, and a single screen is mounted on top of the booth to display videos for a larger audience.

A low-power, inexpensive computer by UK-based Aleutia is in the works and expected to adapt to both AC and solar-power requirements. Electrical components will be stored inside the oil drum by way of a hinged door.

"The innovative technologies like these actually help create a digital bridge between those who have access to the Internet and those who don’t, in a low-cost sturdy fashion," explained Sharad Sapra, UNICEF representative in Uganda.

Preparing for the world beyond bars

The Correctional Education Association – the professional organization for educators in criminal and juvenile justice settings -- recently announced its partnership with corrections-services provider JPay to "increase educational opportunities for incarcerated adults and juveniles and reduce recidivism in America's prisons."

The team collaborated to build a digital education platform for inmates to prepare for the GED, study writing and math, develop computer literacy, and learn re-entry and life skills and English as a second language. The organization plans to develop college-level accredited degree courses in the future.

The power of correctional education, the association reports, was highlighted in a 2014 RAND Corporation study. The study's findings note that inmates participating in correctional education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison than those not participating. They also have better chances of gaining employment after leaving prison. One of the study's key recommendations: the need for the effective use of technology in correctional education by implementing a technology platform open to educators and education providers.

CEA's cloud-based learning management system allows instructors to load coursework online. Inmate students can then access materials by downloading the information from a kiosk housed within the correctional facility (or wireless network) to their tablets.

"The partnership exceeds our expectations for implementing an open, common framework for delivering educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals," Steve Steurer, Executive Director of CEA, said in a release. "The result, we believe, will be a giant step forward for updating and extending the reach of education in prisons, juvenile facilities and jails."



Topics: Education / Schools, Repair / Service, Trends / Statistics

Nicole Troxell
Nicole’s work has appeared in business, education, technical, and travel publications. She is currently the editor of and wwwView Nicole Troxell's profile on LinkedIn

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