During visits to primary schools, librarians from Nakuru Public Library in the busy town of Nakuru in mid-western Kenya were alarmed to find that most of the children they spoke to hated mathematics. The children believed maths was very difficult, many were failing, and some dreaded the subject so much that they wanted to drop out of school.
THE INNOVATIVE PROJECT
The librarians put their heads together: how could they help change children’s attitudes and boost their performance in mathematics?
In 2016, at a national meeting of directors and managers of Kenya National Service Libraries (KNLS) libraries, Mrs Purity Kavuri-Mukutu, head of Nakuru Public Library, heard a presentation about the e-learning programme Maths-Whizz. The presenter, a representative of the international learning platform, Book Waves, which distributes educational material aligned with the Kenyan school curriculum, explained how Maths-Whizz uses animations, games and worksheets to stimulate children’s interest in maths and build their maths skills.
It seemed like a perfect fit. Back in Nakuru, Purity called a meeting of local government officials, headmasters, maths teachers and parents to discuss a project involving Maths-Whizz. Because primary schools in Nakuru (as in many other parts of Kenya) do not yet have computers for students to use, the meeting decided that classes should take place in the library, which has 30 public access computers and broadband internet.
In May 2016 the library was awarded a small matching funds grant from the EIFL Public Library innovation Programme (EIFL-PLIP) to pilot maths classes in the library. The librarians acquired and set up Maths-Whizz on the library’s computers; selected six schools and developed a schedule of maths classes. Each school would come to the library twice a week for an hour-long Maths-Whizz class, accompanied by a maths teacher.
There was just one obstacle: when classes began, librarians discovered that pupils and teachers lacked basic computer skills. Some children had never seen or touched a computer before. Undeterred, the librarians integrated basic computer skills into the learning schedule.
The County Government gave the schools permission to bring the children to the library, and the Maths-Whizz project could go ahead.
"I have conquered one of the greatest enemies in my life. I always believed that maths was one of the most difficult and complicated subjects. However after learning maths through the digital learning programme at the library, my grades have miraculously improved - from 30% to 84%. I have now become the class ‘small maths teacher’ I am now able to help my classmates and siblings at home. I have also learnt how to use a computer. My parents can’t hide their joy and this made them buy me a new dress." - Grace Gakenia, Class 6, Lakeview Primary School.
EIFL-PLIP PROJECT TIMELINE
May 2016 – March 2017
ACHIEVEMENTS AND IMPACT
Through the Maths-Whizz project, the library -
- Improved children’s performance in maths. The library tracked performance of a small group of children who had been failing their tests, and found that after just nine months of Maths-Whizz classes, all were passing.
- Changed children’s attitudes to maths: during the project, hundreds of children came to the library of their own accord after school hours and on Saturdays to use Maths-Whizz, calling themselves the ‘Maths-Whizz champions’. Children who took part in the project no longer believe that maths is a difficult subject; many now refer to it as ‘the game of numbers’.
- Taught 600 children from six primary schools to use computers and the Maths-Whizz programme. In addition, the library taught six teachers to use Maths-Whizz to support the children, and trained 12 librarians and 20 library volunteers to conduct Maths-Whizz classes in the library;
- Encouraged peer learning: each of the six schools appointed four students to be ‘small maths teachers’. The role of the ‘small maths teachers’ is to help their fellow students with maths in the library and in class. Librarians report that the ‘small maths teachers’ take their role very seriously and organize children into groups for after-school ‘tuition’ in the library;
- Generated support – Parents Teachers Associations (PTA) at two schools that are not within walking distance of the library are paying for transport to bring children to the library; the Nakuru County Government has agreed to fund purchase of additional computers for Maths-Whizz and basic computer skills classes; a parent is fundraising in the community so that the library can buy more chairs for the children’s section, and the US Embassy increased the library’s internet bandwidth to accommodate e-learning programmes.
KNLS Nakuru Public Library’s maths classes are continuing and expanding. After learning about the success of the classes, five more schools signed up, bringing the number of schools the library is working with to 11.
The project has won support from across the community - from students who run to the library after school to practise their maths; from parents who now regularly bring their children to the library; from teachers who say that they have also learnt from the programme and that it has improved their classroom practice; and from the Nakuru County Education Office.
The KNLS Board has agreed to continue to support the Maths-Whizz classes as an ongoing service of Nakuru Public Library, and is also supporting Maths-Whizz projects in three more KNLS branches: Buruburu, Kibera and Narok.