New technologies help increase literacy among children in Kenya

A partnership between companies, governments and civil sector groups is helping to share the benefits of technology with disadvantaged communities in Kenya.

Aiming to increase literacy among children aged 6 to 9, the project Open Space Literacy (OSL) introduces new technologies to student and teacher development, combined with active community involvement. OSL is part of the global effort known as Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D).

Starting last year with 25 schools in Nairobi, Kenya, the goal is to reach 300 schools nationally within a few years.

Thanks to the support of partners including SOS Children’s Villages Austria, Nokia, British Telecom and Lenovo, OSL helps teachers develop inclusive teaching methods, classroom leadership and the use of information and communication technologies. The project helps create networks for teachers and engage parents and community members in school management.

The partnership – which includes private companies, public institutions and the Government – has been the key to success.

And the numbers speak for themselves: attended by underserved communities and children from SOS Children’s Villages target group – children who are at risk of losing, or have already lost, parental care – around 14,500 pupils, 580 teachers and 140 school management board members have directly participated in the project. Moreover, around 10,800 children are benefitting indirectly thanks to the improvement of school management. About 17,500 people across the community have benefitted directly or indirectly from OSL.

Sustainability, a key piece of the project

School management committees and community members have been introduced to the potential of technology integration in the schools to support learning and the importance of parents reading with their children at home. Literacy is one of the major education gaps in Kenya. As a result, “they are actively participating in the project creating strategies and promotion activities for its sustainability, as well as contributing to sustain OSL through securing rooms for the devices, donating furniture and contributing financially with what they can“, said Daniel Oloo, ICT4D Coordinator in SOS Children’s Villages Kenya and project manager of OSL.

The Government of Kenya has acknowledged the value of OSL to education in the public schools and is supporting its implementation, in cooperation with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, through the provision of qualified trainers to train teachers how to integrate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into their work. A total of 16 pioneer teachers have been selected to follow a more specialised training on ICT and act as technical support for their colleagues in the school to allow solving problems internally and supporting the sustainability of the project.

Lydiah Mureithi, teacher at Dr Livingstone School says: “Public schools [have] scarce resources in terms of text books, the ratio being 5:97. I use OSL devices to project part of the textbook to the pupils allowing the whole class to benefit. I also the use of digital content in the OSL devices and the pupils really enjoy the lessons!”

A recent internal monitoring taking as reference the baseline done in January 2015 has already shown the improvement of literacy levels in grades 1 – 3 in all the implementing schools. Several head teachers also indicated that the pupils’ performance has improved generally across the school.

Tom Were, National Director of SOS Kenya highlighted that “OSL implements a holistic approach towards attaining quality education with the use of ICT by the lower grade children. Effective Early Grade Learning (Literacy) is one of the biggest educational challenges in the country that affects our children, and now that we have the first results on the benefits OSL approach brings, we look forward to scale it in more schools across Kenya. For this, we make a call to potential partners to join us in this project and help us in providing quality education to children to support them in achieving their full potential”.

And what do the direct beneficiaries think about OSL?

8 year-old girl from class 2 at Dr Livingstone School: “I play games using the laptops and the interactive wall during the English lessons. I am always happy as I play the educational games because they are interesting”.

John Olouch, parent of a child at James Gichuru Primary School: “From the inception of the project, my son Samuel has been very happy and wants to go to school every day. I participated in a school meeting where they explained to us the importance of reading with our children. I don’t read very well but I sit with my son to hear him read. I support this project and I hope you can reach more pupils”.

Phoebe Sitati, teacher at Nairobi River Primary School: “I thought using computers was very difficult but after the trainings I am happy and confident using technology to teach reading and writing effectively. My 45 children in the classroom are very active during the lessons and they participate a lot”.

Mary Mureithi, teacher at Kimathi Primary School: “OSL is very useful and saves us time. For example, if I want to teach a lesson, it is easy to draft a lesson from the laptop and hence deliver the lesson using the projector. It is interesting because children like learning what they see and like to actively participate in the learning through the interactive projector”.

7 year-old boy from class 1 at Kimathi Primary School: ‘I learnt English using the laptops and the projector. I touched the screen and letters and sounds move, and I like to learn like that. I was taught by Mrs Yembe to use the computer after and when lessons finish we can come back and continue reading”.