| June 8, 2012

Decreasing Our Breakage Rate


Written by the Worldreader Research & Operations Team

In his book The Fifth Discipline, MIT Professor Peter Senge defines a learning organization as a place “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”

Worldreader is a learning organization. Our pilot project iREAD is our learning ground, where we continually learn from the experiences of those we are serving: the students and teachers. We extract best practices from iREAD that form the core of our implementation methodology, which involves operational infrastructure and efficiency and perhaps more importantly, capacity building and community engagement. (Stay tuned for our upcoming report in the learnings section, where we will describe the ten key components of a successful e-reader program.)

Worldreader Fellow Sofia leading the creative art project called “Caring for my Kindle”

From iREAD, the most important learning was that it’s working: our students are reading more and reading better, especially at the primary level. We’ve also learned that bringing Kindles to classrooms in Africa change dynamics in the classroom and at home. For example, children can now get educated outside of the classroom, and they can also read stories to their parents, grandparents, or siblings at home.

Ghana Operations Manager Joseph drops an egg to illustrate how to care for an e-reader

In that way and many others, there is an added dimension to being a responsible student for our iREAD children. Most of them had never owned any valuable or delicate items like a Kindle. Theft has turned out not to be a problem, but breakage turned out to be quite high. That is an important learning point for Worldreader. It was not entirely a surprise, because we had chosen to work with a device that would provide the functionality and “behind-the-scenes” support needed, but wasn’t designed for the sometimes harsh conditions of the developing world.  So we needed to be prepared to evaluate and make improvements for the environments we operate in.

Based on this learning, we are engaging teachers and students through programs such as the creative art projects and “egg-drop demonstrations,” and we’ve also increased our local capacity for repairs by teaching our staff and volunteers in our Ghana office how to do screen repairs.

On-site screen repairs: Worldreader’s technology guru Alex teaches our Ghana team how to repair Kindles

Concurrently, we are studying our iREAD results closely to figure out the best and most sustainable approach. Results so far have been encouraging. For example, we find that nearly 90% of the breakages are caused by a broken screen. Subsequently, we worked with manufacturers and field-tested devices with specially-reinforced screens, which performed better than the regular devices deployed in the same time period (in the scenario where students take devices home, the breakage rate dropped from 50% to 19%). This technology has since been incorporated in later versions of the e-reader.

In addition to the technology we have been studying the protective cases. Previously, the cases we used would disintegrate because they had to be washed. Now our cases can be wiped clean and therefore stay strong and protective. We continue to innovate to bring the breakage rate down even further using protective accessories (sneak preview: one of these solutions might even incorporate solar energy! More to come).

Old Kindle case that had to be washed (left) and the current case that is more suitable for our students (right)

Interestingly, we’ve also found that of the students who have broken a higher number of e-readers, many of them are “star students” who had either received rewards for their participation in iREAD vacation school or taken impressive initiatives such as starting a book club. Findings such as that generate new research questions for us.

Perhaps most encouraging is that we see a clear downward trend in the breakage rate in iREAD. In addition to the dramatic improvement seen with the reinforced screen devices, our more recent programs have experienced much lower breakage rates: our one-year-old program in Kilgoris, Kenya, has a 6% breakage rate while our 5-month-old program in Uganda hasn’t had any breakages at all. The same goes for our newest fourth-grade classroom in Ghana, rolled out in mid-May 2012: we’ve had zero broken e-readers so far, even though the students in that class (like the others in our Ghana program) take the e-readers home every night.  We’re applying those same learnings across our programs now, and teaching our partners as well.

Ultimately, we are a learning organization with a love for books and education, and we are lucky to have local and international partners that are committed to learning and improving with us. Every morning we wake up and ask ourselves: How can we get more books to more kids in the developing world? Improving their experience by keeping their devices working is an important part of the mix, and we’re getting better at that every day.