Learnings | April 29, 2024

Getting Parents Reading: How BookSmart is Helping Families Read in Kenyan Homes


Our Raising Readers report shows the value of training, teachers, and technology in engaging parents to read at home with their children.

BookSmart orientation in Kenya

Reading at home is more important than ever. The pandemic and resulting school closures in 2021 led us to shift from school-based programs to directly supporting reading in the home using our BookSmart app.

To learn just how valuable this change was, we partnered with ODI to conduct our Raising Readers report, a two-year study supported by EdTech Hub. Together, we explored the best ways to work with parents and caregivers when introducing a digital reading platform and what best supports children’s reading.

Making reading at home work better began with testing different engagement strategies, including digital messaging, teacher-assigned reading, parental training, and shared reading sessions. The study involved 12 schools and approximately 1,800 third-grade students in schools and communities outside Nairobi, Kenya. Below is a summary of our key learnings from the study – find all key learnings in our new article Unlocking Literacy: Navigating Parental Engagement with Worldreader’s BookSmart in Kenya.

1. Gains in Parents’ Reading Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices 

Parents hold the keys to sharing and using digital reading tools like BookSmart. From the beginning, the project showed that children were nearly five times more likely to read voluntarily. Caregivers using the app were also five times more likely to notice improvements in their children’s reading.

These show that reading apps like BookSmart have the potential to directly impact children’s reading habits and increase reading awareness among parents, helping build a culture of home reading.

2. The Value of Training First

Getting parents onboard with BookSmart through an initial orientation also had a huge impact on their reading engagement. This training improved caregiver involvement more than other strategies and was supported further by approaches like teacher-assigned reading and shared reading sessions. Introducing parents to BookSmart and teaching them how to use the app is valuable.

3. Involving School Leaders and Teachers 

Teacher-assigned reading was one of the best methods to get parents engaged in children’s reading. Teachers not only helped by assigning readings, but also by organizing BookSmart sessions before and after school to ensure inclusivity.

School leaders also played a valuable role in creating reading-friendly environments and facilitating success. They aligned learning plans with reading goals, created school library reading times, and provided teachers with Wi-Fi and data. The dedication of teachers and school leaders to supporting parents shows that they are a powerful influence in getting children reading at home.

4. Barriers to Digital Access in Under-Resourced Communities

Despite location, EdTech knowledge, and school support, under-resourced communities still experienced barriers to equitable access to digital reading tools like BookSmart. Over 80% of the families in our study live on less than US $150 per month, decreasing their access to devices and data. Many caregivers are migrant workers juggling multiple jobs.

While more than 65% of caregivers surveyed own a smartphone, nearly 35% lacked personal smartphones, relying instead on the shared devices of extended family members or neighbors. Only about 15% of caregivers had Wi-Fi in the home, making consistent reading a challenge.

While BookSmart is available on many devices and offers downloadable books, low access to devices and data meant that families struggled to read. Despite the benefits, digital reading tools can run into barriers in engaging all parents equally across different settings.

Moving Forward

The Raising Readers study has shown the potential and challenges of using digital reading tools in the home to encourage reading in Kenya. In response to the research, Worldreader is working to further remove barriers. A new partnership with Safaricom is allowing us to address data affordability and connectivity challenges, offering over 2,000 Kenyan families free access to the BookSmart app without data charges. By using community approaches and EdTech tools, parents and caregivers can become leaders in their children’s reading.

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