Lewa Downs digital library whets studying appetite for learners in remote Meru villages

Lewa Downs Primary School candidate Stephen Wachira leads his classmates in revision in the school library head of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams on October 2, 2015. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL

What you need to know:

Smart reading

  • Digital library model designed by Knowledge Empowering Youth, offers students a child-friendly facility.
  • The digital library is equipped with e-books, computers, online library access and a smart board.
  • Field-Marsham Foundation, Safaricom Foundation and the Lewa Conservancy funded the Sh10m digital library project.

Dickson Nevious, a Class Eight pupil at Lewa Downs Primary School in Buuri, Meru County, is optimistic that he will perform well in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations despite the five-week teachers strike.

While the tutors were away, a new, cozy, digital library at the remote Lewa Downs next to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy kept pupils streaming in.

Most school libraries were out of bounds for learners in the absence of a teacher, making private studies difficult. But the Lewa Downs digital library’s unique management system that involves students and community members has kept the facility open even in the absence of teachers.

The library’s management model is designed by Knowledge Empowering Youth (KEY), an organisation that sets up libraries that are child friendly equipped with books, computers, online library, and a smart board.

Its management is made easy by student and community library constitutions that are made through consultation with the Constitution.

Field-Marsham Foundation, Safaricom Foundation and the Lewa Conservancy funded the construction of the digital library at a cost of Sh10 million.

Field-Marsham Foundation project manager Nicola Milnes says students have been able to read and revise from a smart board in the library.

The KCPE and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates have access to digital revision materials from eKitabu, a startup that sells e-books and interactive content to schools in Kenya.

“The pupils come in as a group and from the smart board they go through materials from eKitabu software. The candidates have been able to go through revision papers working out on problems on the smart board. We are glad that the KEY library has helped close gaps caused by the teachers’ strike,” says Ms Milnes.

Students and community members are taught how to handle books and e-books, good governance and citizenship while KEY provides regular monitoring and assessment services.

Nevious, the pupil at Lewa Downs Primary who is also its president, says the digital platform has offered them an opportunity to access a wide range of learning materials in the remote village.

“Despite the teachers strike, we feel that we will do well because we have been learning from eKitabu. We have been able to read story books and other course books from this library. We expect a better mean score this year due to increased access to books,” he says.

Nevious says the library has given pupils exposure to the digital world and whetted their appetite for reading.

Besides the course books, Ms Milnes says, the library offers books that cover topical issues based on the community needs.

“We believe in the transformative power of language, reading and a well-rounded education. Books inspire and provide knowledge that has power to positively change the destiny of a child and a community. We have stocked the library with books on conservation, farming and other self-help topics,” she explains.

KEY chief executive Rita Field-Marsham says her mission is to deliver state-of-the-art, custom-made libraries across the country.
“We provide access to books and technology to enhance language and technological literacy proficiency. This will lead to better academic standards that prepare students to become competent and successful citizens in today’s globally competitive world,” she says.

Ms Field-Marsham adds that a major challenge in establishing libraries in Kenya is a lack of a national library policy.
KEY has been working with Kenyan teachers and international library experts in developing a relevant book-list. Another challenge, she says, is the culture of mismanagement of school libraries.

“We could find cases where the teacher in charge disappears with the key denying the pupils access to the library. A lack of ownership of the library by students leads to mismanagement. Using my legal expertise, we developed a library constitution that is aligned with the Kenyan Constitution,” she adds.

Ms Field-Marsham says the use of digital content and good management guidelines could help bridge gaps of access to books in the country.

In Kenya, more than 80 per cent of secondary schools and 98 per cent of primary schools have no libraries, according to the Ministry of Education.

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