Predictions for e-readers

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Students in Kilgoris, Kenya proudly display their e-readers (Courtesy Jon McCormack)

Today I spent some time reviewing our blog posts over the past year and reflecting on what I’ve experienced with Worldreader.  Now, I am going to make a prediction:  E-readers will change the way the developing world reads.   Most predictions take a lot of nerve and guts, but this really isn’t the case here.  It’s just hard to deny when you see what’s happening.

Exactly a year ago, Mike Sundermeyer blogged about his trip to Ghana where he pioneered one of Worldreader’s first meeting with local publishers.  According to Mike, it would be a “fantastic first milestone in getting great local content”.  Fast forward a year later and we have partnerships with over 10 publishers in Sub-Saharan Africa and they are uniformly thinking about their global digitization strategy.  We have helped them to digitize 116 African titles, like local favorite Ananse and the Pot of Wisdom, and have many, many more in the pipeline.

The launch of the iRead pilot in Ghana was exhilarating, and we blogged about how we were giving students raw power by giving them e-readers.  Of course, we wondered exactly how much students and teachers were going to read and were promptly blown away as they began downloaded not hundreds, but thousands of books.  Soon we noticed trends– like students were downloading books directly related to what they wanted to be when they grow up.  An example of this was Abigail Amoh Paintstil, a student at Kade SHS who told us she wanted to be a journalist; we noticed she was downloading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.   Then, if we weren’t inspired before, we saw the effect of all this reading (students are spending 50% more of their time reading than before) on testing (primary students’ reading comprehension sub-scores improved an average of 13%) in just six months! And this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

And the beauty of it is this: what we saw in Ghana isn’t an anomaly.  Just last month, we launched in Kenya together with The Kilgoris Project and today we received an e-mail from them.  Here’s a tiny glimpse from Caren into all the amazing things occuring there:  “What’s happened at Ntimigom with just three weeks of Kindle usage? Kids are lining up to read at recess.  Instead of playing football, they read in the shade of the trees by the office.  Parents are embracing them too- many primary parents have come to school to get their own Kindle lesson.”

So, the cycle is like this: Students who before have had little or no access to books get e-readers and begin reading more than ever before.  Teachers love them too, as do parents—it’s a welcome addition into the community.  At the same time, publishers join the wave and begin digitizing thousands of African titles—it’s apparent that a vibrant publishing sector will be key to developing a robust culture of literacy. The price of e-reader technology will continue to decrease, making it a feasible option for the developing world. (For our Spanish- speaking followers, please see Worldreader in La Vanguardia last Sunday on this exact topic.)   And students begin to read a lot better (just see the video below if you don’t believe me!) So I welcome your comments: do you think e-reader technology could be a game-changer for reading in the developing world?

Video of the needle moving in Ghana