| May 17, 2010

Report of Findings in Ghana Trial


Ghana Trial ReportWorldreader conducted the first-ever trial using e-readers and digital books in a Sub-Saharan Africa classroom, at the OrphanAid Africa School in Ayenyah, Ghana.  Phase 1 of our trial is complete, and the full 39-page report of our findings is now available for download here: Worldreader E-Reader Trial Report Ghana.

Our experience using e-readers in classrooms in Ghana leads us to believe that digital books have the potential to make a real impact on reading and literacy in similar communities and schools in developing countries.  During this trial, we found that the Kindle e-reader and digital books helped new readers learn to read, got the kids reading more, and gave access to hundreds of thousands of books, in less time and at lower cost than printed books.

Below is a summary of our observations from the trial, and the potential challenges to deploying current technology more widely.  We are now in the planning phase of additional pilot studies in Ghana public schools, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, and we are looking forward to learning more and to finding solutions to many of these challenges, so that more children can read books that engage and inspire them.

Key observations from the report:

  • These 6th-grade students in a village in Ghana, who had used cell phones but had no experience with computers, were all able to learn to use the Kindle successfully after several hours of training and several days of practice.
  • Reading digital books was an acceptable alternative to reading paper books, and the kids quickly forgot they were using a device and became absorbed in the stories they were reading.
  • Kids were excited to read using the device, in part because it was novel and fun to use, and also because it was less intimidating due to the built-in dictionary which helped readers decipher the meaning of new words.
  • Kids also read more using the Kindle because of the variety of books on the device and the instant availability of thousands more, as well as local and timely material like Ghana football scores.
  • The Kindles supported the process of learning to read, especially for new language learners, due to the built-in dictionary to look up words, and the text-to-speech capability for pronunciation (although mechanical-sounding).
  • The infrastructure already in place for mobile phones supports e-readers:  Low-power Kindles successfully charged from solar-powered car batteries in an hour, we were able to download books via the satellite internet link in 45 seconds, and there was cell phone coverage in the village.

Potential challenges:

  • The preparation and setup of the e-readers – buying, unpacking, charging, loading with books, etc. – was time-consuming and will be challenging to scale without developing new methods, in cooperation with the manufacturers. There was also a lack of tools for managing many devices; for example, there was no central way to see which devices had which books loaded.
  • There were a number of usability issues with the Kindles that, while not barriers, increased the learning curve, such as several ways to accidently hide books, and a setting that drains the battery quickly.  A light was also commonly requested, so the students could read at night.
  • The current cost of e-readers and books, along with DRM (digital rights management) policies, would need to be adapted to the market and to educational use.
  • Content for this trial was purchased using personal credit cards, but new payment methods will need to be supported for widescale deployment, such as educational invoicing, and the scratch-off cards used for mobile phones.
  • There is currently a lack of local content available on e-readers, so local publishers would need to be encouraged to digitize their content.
  • While ruggedness of the devices was not a problem in our study, the conditions we observed – dust, dirt, rain, and the rigors of child handling –  will need to be considered by e-reader manufacturers.

And finally, we discovered that the importance of buy-in by the school administration, and the support of a local champion, cannot be understated.  In our trial, the headmaster, Earnest, and the 6th-grade teacher, Philip, were extremely enthusiastic and supportive, and this contributed to the success of the trial.