Ghana – A surprising first week
Our intention was to study whether the reading experience could be an acceptable alternative to paper, because we already know e-books are a cheaper, faster, and more effective way to distribute and carry books. As we mentioned in an earlier post, we were able to download books requested by the kids using the village’s satellite internet connection in under 60 seconds, and this in a place where it takes 4-5 years to replace textbooks. Aside from textbooks, they get only occasional boxes of donated books that aren’t necessarily what the kids want to read (one was called, “All About Utah!”). And you can carry 10 or 100 or 1000 books everywhere you go, with less than the weight of one book.
So in our trials, we have been more focused on observing whether the kids could learn to be comfortable reading books electronically, if the devices would be rugged enough for the environment, and if they would be culturally acceptable in classrooms and families.
After Tuesday, we were away in Accra in the middle of the week for meetings, and we had wondered what we would find when we arrived back in the village on Friday. Would the kindles sit abandoned on the shelves after the novelty wore off? Would they have been dropped or lost or stolen?
When we returned to the village yesterday, the teacher in class 6 said that his students wouldn’t stop reading with the Kindles. Any time he finished a lesson they would pull out their Kindles and start reading under their desk. When they had recess or lunch, they were reading. After school, they would stand or sit around in groups in the village reading. When they went home, they would read to their parents and siblings.
He said they are reading so much that, for several of the kids, he has already begun to notice an improvement in their ability. And he said one boy in the class who could hardly read said that because of the built-in dictionary, the Kindle was “teaching him to read.”
And they are full of ideas for how to improve the Kindles. But can you guess the single most asked-for improvement? A light on their Kindle, so they could continue reading after dark. So they are wanting to read even more!
Now, we know that it is very early in the trial, the Kindles are still novel and exciting, and that all the attention from us and the teacher and the headmaster conspire to encourage the kids to read more than they might otherwise do.
But we have observed first-hand how the dictionary is helping kids learn to read. We have seen the kids asking for more books, and excited about the possibility of getting books they like. And we have seen for ourselves that a class of 6th graders in a village with mud huts and whose only exposure to technology has been the use of cell phones can quickly become proficient in the use of e-books. These are really encouraging signs!
And while this is completely unscientific, we don’t need a 3-year study to understand the importance of the huge smiles we saw on the face of a 6th grade girl who had just finished reading Curious George.
Can’t wait to see what happens next week!