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Digital devices help children to read in Kenya

In Kenya, significant amounts of aid combined with investment from the government have allowed for huge increases in access to primary education for the country’s children.

The government spent over 5% of its income on education over a decade, raising the net enrolment of children in primary school from 62% in 1999 to 83% in 2009. Kenya also abolished fees for secondary school in 2008, increasing enrolment of older children from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.4 million in 2008 (UNESCO).

However, a shortage of schools still limits the opportunities available to youngsters. This is particularly the case in poor areas such as slum regions where secondary schools are absent. And even though there is easier access to primary schools, these facilities often suffer from a shortage of teachers, equipment and books. Standards of achievement among pupils are therefore frequently low. In 2008, two-fifths of young Kenyan women leaving school after six years of primary had only partial literacy skills or none at all (according to a new global monitoring report by UNESCO).

One charity – Worldreader – is trying to address the problem of not enough school books by providing pupils with e-readers. In one project in south-west Kenya, donated e-readers have been provided to around 200 primary school pupils. The devices come pre-loaded with hundreds of textbooks in both English and Kiswahili, as well as fiction stories for the children. The devices are recharged using small solar power packs and generators.

Speaking to The Guardian’s reporter, one twelve year-old student admits that she’d never seen a Kindle until recently, but really enjoys using the device because “it helps me with reading and writing”. Given the cost of buying and transporting physical books, the e-readers are seen as a cost effective way of widening access to essential textbooks and reading. And with little ‘wear and tear’, it’s hoped they’ll be used by many more children.

Supported by leading publishers, as well as other private and charitable donors such as USAID, Worldreader hopes to distribute more than 220,000 digital books to children and teachers across four projects in Africa. Schemes in Ghana and Uganda have also been launched. A spokesperson for the charity explains that with the new digital devices, “instead of building a library, the technology lets us put a library in a child’s hand”. No one can argue that this isn’t a very special gift indeed.

Laurinda Luffman signature