A rural Kenyan school has broken new ground in the use of technology in early childhood education that is expected to set the tone for the planned introduction of laptops in public schools next year.
Kisumu County’s Menara Primary School is setting the pace with the adoption of e-readers as the principal learning tool that has added an element of fun to the pupils’ experience.
The Muhoroni-based school’s climb up the technology ladder has benefitted from its close cooperation with the Ouko Community Initiatives (OCI) – a rural-based organization founded by the family of former Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko.
OCI and its partners have been pivotal to successful execution of the programme that is expected to showcase how technology can be used to improve the quality of education in rural Kenya.
The community-based organization and its partners have financed the acquisition of the technology and the training of teachers besides establishing a lunch programme that has pushed absenteeism in the school to an all-time low.
The e-readers for schools project is part of OCI’s integrated programme for rural Koru that includes the Dr Robert Ouko Memorial Community Library.
The library, which will officially open its doors to the public later this year, went into operation in July ahead of time to accommodate children during the prolonged teachers’ strike.
Hundreds of local pupils flocked to the library during the strike, where staff used the E-readers to engage them in reading from local and international authors in English, Swahili and Dholuo.
OCI’s Project Manager Richard Oketch says the children’s love for e-readers has is helping to nature a reading culture that has seen many pupils read more than a hundred books each.
Teachers love the e-readers too. Each of the 265 e-readers comes with more than 300 titles, including government specified textbooks in English, science, Kiswahili, social studies, and CRE.
Teachers and pupils can also access dictionaries, a world atlas, the Bible, and exercise worksheets to reinforce and practice skills.
The e-readers are particularly suitable for learners with vision impairment coming with a font-size manipulation function that enables enlargement of print sizes for easy reading.
The e-readers also come with 3G internet access that enables users to remotely upload updated materials. Deaf students and younger pupils can make use of the audio feature that reads books aloud with the touch of a button.
Tom Onyona, the head teacher at Menara Primary School says the e-readers have changed the learning environment in the 500-pupils school where the size of a class is often as high as 70.
Mr Onyona says there has been a striking improvement in the pupils’ fluency in English and enthusiasm for school.
“The pupils are engaged. Most stay afterschool to use the e-readers to complete their assignments.”
OCI’s Oketch and volunteer teachers from the United States work with Menara school staff to help them master the use of e-readers in the classroom.
Christabel Ouko, the widow of Dr Robert Ouko and the patron of OCI, says the organization had chosen e-readers over laptops because they do not need a constant supply of power and are much lighter for ease of portability.
(READ: Should students be given laptops or e-readers?)
Susan Ouko Mwaura and Allison Gordon, the co-executive directors of OCI, say the Menara e-readers project is a testing ground that remains open to best practices from around the country.
“What we have learned from studying other projects is that e-readers work only if teachers and students are properly trained to use them,” said Ms Gordon.
OCI’s goal is to develop a pool of expert teachers, students, parents and administrators at the Menara School that will be used to expand e-learning to neighboring schools and across the region.
Mrs says OCI will use the library as a centralized training center for e-reader use and for imparting interactive classroom skills.
The OCI partnership is made up of the Ouko Family, Allison and Ned Gordon and Family, The Trefler Foundation, The Laura and John Barkan Family, Worldreader, Kenya National Library Services, pupils, teachers and parents in Koru.