Positive signs for e-Reading in Ghana despite broken Kindles

This is an interesting press release from WorldReader:

Worldreader, a non-profit organization whose aim is to bring digital books to all in the developing world, along with the c(USAID) and ILC Africa, today released the results of Worldreader’s pilot study of e-readers in Ghana. Titled iREAD, the pilot program involved the wireless distribution of over 32,000 local and international digital books using Kindle e-readers to 350 students and teachers at six pilot schools in Ghana’s Eastern Region between November 2010 and September 2011.

Main findings:

According to the USAID-funded report from ILC Africa, an independent measurement and evaluation firm, the Worldreader e-reader program:

• Dramatically increased children’s access to books: Students with e-readers carried with them an average of 107 books each. Prior to the introduction of ereaders primary students reported having an average of only 3.6 books per student in their homes. Junior high school students reported having an average of 8.6 books at home, and senior high school students had 11.

• Increased enthusiasm towards reading: Students actively downloaded over 6,000 free books during the course of the study, in addition to the local and international text- and story books provided by Worldreader. This does not include thousands of additional free first-chapter samples and trial subscriptions to newspapers and magazines.

• Increased resources for teachers: The Kindles allowed teachers to conduct background research, create lesson notes, and design reading comprehension assessments for students. Since work was more efficient, teachers reported having more time to develop lessons.

• Increased performance on standardized test scores: Reading scores of primary school students who received e-readers increased from 12.9% to 15.7%, depending on whether they received any additional reading support. This represented an improvement of 4.8% to 7.6% above scores of students in control classrooms without e-readers. These results were obtained using the School Education Assessment (SEA), an assessment designed by Media Relations.

Ghana Basic Education Comprehensive Assessment System (BECAS) project.

The SEA exam is intended to show how well Primary 4 students understand core objectives within the English curriculum.

• Results at the junior high school and senior high school levels were mixed.“We have been pleased to be involved in the exploration of e-readers and look forward to further learning of the potential of different technologies that support the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service Plans for quality education improvements in Ghana,” said Marisol Perez, Education Office Director at USAID Ghana.

Worldreader says:

According to Zev Lowe, Director of Research and Operations at Worldreader, “We had hoped to see kids read more and better when provided a portable library of culturally-relevant books. We have seen even more enthusiasm about reading than we expected for a 10-month pilot, and look forward to making available more local and international e-books to many more students in the developing world as we continue on our mission to bring books to all.”

Involving the local community, theft and breakages.

During the pilot study, Worldreader worked with local leaders to raise awareness about e-readers. Worldreader’s collaboration with community leadership kept loss and theft rates of the e-readers to nearly zero. Breakage rates were higher than hoped-for, but feedback from Worldreader has since cut breakage rates by more than half. Worldreader continues to work closely with students and device manufacturers to improve care of e-readers with strengthening the design, while continuing to encourage students to use the e-readers outside of school so that they can read more.

What next?

Regarding next steps, Robert Davidson, former Education Office Director at USAID Ghana who helped initiate this Global Development Alliance between Worldreader and USAID, emphasized the continuing importance of partnerships to the future success of the program, noting that it will also be “critical for other bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies to adopt technological and forward-leaning strategies in their program design.”

Since September 2011, Worldreader has expanded its program, distributing an additional 36,000 digital books to students in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. In addition, through its Worldreader Kit Program, Worldreader has made its e-reader program available to other organizations that seek to provide e-books to children throughout Sub Saharan Africa. Finally, Worldreader has recently launched a mobile phone application for inexpensive “feature” phones that allows anyone with a basic phone and mobile data plan to read hundreds of books for free.

Footnote  on Press Released

So that’s all good. The technological issue briefly mentioned above could be a substantial one – many of the Kindles got broken. This is a big issue in a country that cannot afford easily to replace such devices without external aid. See this article for more information on that. The full evaluation report of iREAD is available on WorldReader’s website. Also, many projects like this succeed for a short while, whilst investment and interest is strong – it’s the longer term results that will really count. However, Worldreader seem to be adopting a realistic approach and are keen to learn and adapt, so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on what happens next.