As we gear up for our pilot project distributing e-readers to Kaute Primary School in Kathiana, Kenya, we are pleased to read about the independent study recently published by Worldreader of its pilot program. Worldreader distributed over 32,000 digital books on Kindles to 350 students and teachers at six schools (primary, junior high, and senior high schools) in Ghana’s Eastern Region over an 11 month period. The study found that those primary students with access to digital books and additional reading support showed “significant improvement” in their reading skills and in the amount of time that they spent reading.
Even Ghanan students with no prior exposure to computers quickly learned to use the e-readers, including using them to explore the internet and listen to music as well as reading the books that Worldreader pre-loaded. The former uses are not something Worldreader, like Read and Prosper, wants to encourage.
The number of Kindles stolen from the Ghanaian project was negligible. The study attributes this to substantial community support, probably engendered by the community outreach Worldreader conducted. Worldreader’s decision to allow students to take their Kindles home may have also been a factor. These students have an average of five siblings and many reported sharing their e-readers with them and as well as reading to their illiterate parents.
The availability of e-readers to students dramatically increased their access to books at home. Reading scores improved the most, however, among primary school students who received additional reading support, confirming that students are most affected by reading interventions between the ages of 4 and 10. Training teachers to use the e-readers effectively is critical to maximizing their impact on learning.
The biggest problem found in the study is the fragility of the Kindles. 40.5 percent of the Kindles broke. Worldreader is now distributing Kindles with reinforced screens and more rugged cases. Again, training is essential — even simple instructions like “don’t sit on your e-reader” are necessary for children unaccustomed to using electronic equipment.
The study reinforces the following decisions we have made before launching our pilot project:
- to buy e-readers with reinforced screens and rugged cases to minimize breakage;
- to distribute e-readers only to the most advanced primary school students;
- to restrict internet access on the e-readers;
- to provide a training program for students and teachers on the use and care of the e-readers; and
- to conduct community outreach programs and gain the support of community leaders before and after the distribution of the e-readers.
We’re on the right track!