| March 21, 2012

News: Tablets Seen as Learning Gardens at Menara School


“Sawa sawa. Okay, good. Are you getting it?” asks teacher Victor during English Class 4 at the Menara Primary School in Mnara, Kenya. The class, packed with some 55 students, is studying celebrations.

Victor stops for a moment. He sees a vocabulary word he wants the students to learn. He picks up his e-reader, hits the word ‘ceremony,’ reads the definition to his class and writes it on the board.

Menara Primary School students browsing through their e-reader.

A few days ago, he would have flipped through a well-used, plastic-wrapped, dog-eared dictionary. Now, by pushing a couple of buttons, he has the textbook and the dictionary at his fingertips. It’s things like this that bring smiles to the teachers’ faces.

Access to instant information, including definitions, make classrooms and learning more efficient, effective and fun — three elements Project Manager Richard Oketch hopes to instill in teachers and students during the e-reader roll-out here. That message is already sinking in.

Over the last few days, Worldreader has been helping with a training program launched in conjunction with the Dr. Robert Ouko Memorial Community Library. The program is funded by the Gordons and their family and friends.


Teachers chatting before bringing Kindles into their classrooms

In this short time, we’ve seen how comfortable most of the tech-savvy teachers have become with scrolling through menu options and finding their way around the screens.

Naturally, the kids are incredibly curious about what’s going on and can’t wait to see what pops up if they hit that button or this button. Parents and grandparents, too, lined up after the community event  to use the device, and requested even more stories be added, stories told to them when they were growing up (Worldreader’s working on it!).

More than 500 students in grades one to eight will have access to 46 Kindles loaded up with more than 200 Kenyan textbooks, storybooks by African authors, international classics and interactive learning tools such as a flash cards. The Gordon and Ouko families brought the devices to the school last June, and since then, students and teachers have been dabbling with them. Worldreader’s in-depth device training and growing list of modern and culturally-relevant books will up the school’s knowledge base and allow teachers to better integrate the e-readers into lesson plans (or schemes of work, as they’re called locally).

While the longer-term vision is to get more devices into the students’ hands, for now, the e-readers will rotate through different classrooms and be a daily fixture at after-school activities aimed at promoting leisure reading.

“This is a shamba (the Swahili word for garden or a field used for growing crops)” several people repeated during the training and community events, waving a Kindle in the air. It’s evident that’s how the teachers see the gift they’ve been given. E-readers are tools that seed educational improvements, nurture personal development and inspire people to learn.

Often, three students must share textbooks like these.

Kids are excited about the e-books they’ll be reading. Several teachers and community members called the e-reader a ‘shamba’ (garden) for learning.

“E-readers and access to books increase interest in reading,” said Headmaster Tom Onyona, noting that three children often have to share one class textbook. “When there’s more interest in reading, the students will understand more about what they are reading. If they understand more, they will read more.”

That’s exactly what we hope happens.

Keep an eye on this space. We’re uploading an album of some of the best photos from the trip. And, we’ll share updates as news comes in from our partners Allison, Susan and Richard.