Recent disruptions to the school learning schedule have highlighted the need for an alternative learning pathway that allows our children to continue learning, even when circumstances beyond our control like the pandemic and its resulting effects , such as compressed remedial learning schedule, require the need to suspend learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent general elections in Kenya are cases of unfortunate scenarios where learning had to be interrupted to enable global and national responses, respectively.
These two events had broad social, economic and political repercussions. It will take time to recover and catch up.
The pandemic has created a severe learning crisis among children, many of whom are already struggling to access quality educational resources, seeing these opportunities dwindle due to competing needs at the household level, the reality of an economy in decline and access to (financial) resources.
The solution lies in integrating and scaling digital reading and learning as a complementary pathway to provide uninterrupted learning opportunities for learners across the country. The positive outcomes of digital reading interventions are numerous, whether implemented at home or at school.
Studies are already showing that there is a bigger problem of an underdeveloped reading culture that pervades our society and Africa in general.
The reading culture across the continent is weaker compared to other continents, especially the Global North, tending to focus primarily on reading and studying for exams, leaving very little room for building beliefs. a leisure reading culture.
As with any other practice, the more you do, the better you get at it. Reading is no different; The more you read a lot, the better you go about it, the more your mind opens up to possibilities.
The World Bank reports that 53% of children in low-income countries do not master reading by age 10.
Across the continent, the fundamental foundation of reading is strongly reflected in the early grades; Yet competence is not at baseline and reading cuts across all sectors and should be enjoyed as a lifelong activity.
The state of reading culture can be attributed to a combination of reasons, including:
Inadequate funding for early learning resulting in inadequate resources to support a strong integrated reading base that cuts across the learning spectrum. It is costly to use incumbent educators to provide optimal delivery. To do a great job, teachers need resources.
Parents and guardians fail to see their role in the reading ecosystem, relegating it to a school activity despite the fact that there is so much support that can be offered from home. Digital can and should fill this gap. These parents and caregivers already own a device that they can use to provide support at home.
The Government of Kenya put in place an ICT learning policy from the start of the digital learning program. In collaboration with the community and development partners, the EdTech environment expands in scope and depth, facilitating a responsive online learning space. The Government of Kenya has been at the forefront of promoting digital learning.
Worldreader, an international NGO, works with partners around the world to support vulnerable and underserved communities with digital reading solutions that provide early reading experiences that help improve learning outcomes.
Worldreader’s work in East and West Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia has shown that the positive outcomes of digital reading interventions are numerous, they are implemented at home or at school.
The BookSmart app, easily downloadable to data-connected devices, features or smartphones, provides a library of culturally relevant e-books in 5 languages, built-in media and robust data insights to ensure kids learn access to quality reading and learning materials, at school or at home, to help them maintain their learning outcomes and become lifelong readers and informed decision makers.
Worldreader’s digital learning program has been able to significantly improve native language oral reading fluency and familiar word recognition and, at the same time, help improve English reading skills. Girls also enjoy significant benefits through reduced gender gaps in education and society.
We also observed that the program leads to higher teacher satisfaction rates and better teacher retention.
There is also an increase in student enrollment and lower dropout rates as well as greater student engagement in reading activities and general confidence. This learning comes from specific programs implemented in different countries.
Many challenges remain when deploying digital reading solutions at the national level. These require concerted efforts by various stakeholders including government, development partners, communities and the private sector to address them.
For example, there is a need to streamline the policy environment to allow for more transparent engagement between government and partners when cooperation is needed to deploy a digital reading solution.
At the same time, there is a need to strengthen the existing infrastructure to enable the deployment of digital learning solutions, including reliable connectivity across the country and good support for offline solutions.
Technological solutions are still not so affordable, therefore initiatives are needed to entice local hardware importers or manufacturers to be encouraged to play their part by using gadgets for digital learning.
COVID 19 has revealed deep capacity issues in the consumption and integration of digital solutions. While we appear to be a digital economy, digital skills are very unevenly distributed, with the majority of the country lacking adequate knowledge and skills to support reading and learning from home, especially educators responsible for remote learning .
This requires more investment in remote solutions and better definition of appropriate technology for different communities. It is also important that the process is inclusive and takes particular account of the needs of disabled and vulnerable people.
Overall, there is a need to integrate digital as an essential mechanism for improving home literacy and school learning environments, helping to establish a hybrid model that will empower children, parents, caregivers , teachers and educators to use these tools to improve learning outcomes, cultivate knowledge, empathy, resilience and help them build a strong local community.
It is through this free digital learning journey that we can ensure that children continue to read and learn at all times.