Supporting education: Innovation Award

Library’s educational e-readers programme improves rural children’s reading skills in Kenya

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Children in a classroom reading with the e-readers.
Reading aloud in class – children practise with the e-readers at Menara Primary School.

Through this library’s innovative service, children in a rural community in southwestern Kenya have access to e-readers pre-loaded with textbooks in all school subjects, and over 400 African and other international titles and reference books.

The 'Dr Robert Ouko' Memorial Community Library serves Koru, a rural area in Kisumu county, Nyanza province.  Public schools are under-resourced and understaffed and the library's collection of books is limited. The e-readers project responds to a desperate need:

“Many local primary schools have over 500 pupils, virtually no textbooks and a student-teacher ratio of over 60 to one. Many pupils cannot afford lunch.

“Our concept was to give pupils access to digital books at school, and a free lunch, and in this way, to motivate them to study and read. In addition, we are improving their technical skills,” said Mr Richard Aoko Oketch, project manager at 'Dr Robert Ouko' Memorial Community Library.

With a donation of 46 e-readers from the Gordon Family (USA), the library launched the project in Menara Primary School in March 2012.  

Very quickly, the idea caught the attention of three more international donors: the Trefler Foundation, which donated over 200 more e-readers; Worldreader, which supported the purchase and downloading of school textbooks, titles by African authors, and international reference books, and Laura Barkan and friends (USA), which funded lunch for the children.

The project is welcomed with open arms

Headmasters, teachers and the community welcomed the project with open arms. The library’s main activities have been to show teachers how to integrate the e-readers and technology into their teaching; to teach pupils to use them, and to continually update the e-readers with relevant digital books.

Many of the e-readers have 3G capacity, and pupils can use them to access the internet to find other open educational resources. In addition, they have other useful functions that promote learning, like the ‘direct/immediate meaning’ feature, which readers use to look for the meaning of words they cannot understand, and a ‘text to speech’ function, which helps children who are visually impaired.

During the school term, the e-readers are kept at the participating schools: 200 at Menara Primary School, where 450 children use them, and 50 at Dr Robert Ouko Primary School next to the library, where 150 children use them.

Children compete in ‘reading marathons’

During holidays, the e-readers are available at the library, and children from many schools in the county use them in special holiday reading and other activities organized by the library.

Especially popular activities are the Reading Marathon and Reading Promotion Days, during which pupils compete for awards for having read the most titles. Some pupils are proud to have read 50 books in just one year.

“The pupils and teachers thoroughly enjoy using the e-readers, in and out of class. The children’s academic performance has improved tremendously. The school has also saved a lot of money by using digital textbooks, and we are using the saved money to improve the school’s infrastructure. The lunch programme is a big boost too,” said Mr Tom Onyona, head teacher at Menara Primary School.

The e-readers have also inspired other activities, and more children are taking part in drama, poetry reading and debates.

“Through reading I have managed to explore the whole world, from ancient times to the future. The e-readers and the books in them also teach me how to relate to other people. I like to explore and learn new things – like the Magic Tree House Series, which enables me to travel around the world in my mind as I read,” said Gladys, a pupil at Menara Primary School.

Plans to expand the programme

Enthusiasm for e-reading has spread across Kisumu county, and the library is planning to expand the programme to include more schools and other kinds of digital educational technology, like tablet computers and digital whiteboards, to improve learning outcomes. The library is also working with local organizations to digitize stories that the children have written, and to download them to the e-readers. 

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The children’s academic performance has improved tremendously. The school has also saved a lot of money by using digital textbooks, and we are using the saved money to improve the school’s infrastructure.
Tom Onyona, head teacher, Menara Primary School