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In the beginning of November 2010, 337 students in two Primary Schools, two Junior High Schools and two Senior High Schools in the Eastern Region of Ghana received e-readers loaded with a mix of free (out-of-copyright) books, local textbooks, local storybooks and international books, with the choice to search for and download additional content. Worldreader evaluated the impact of these e-readers along two primary dimensions throughout the school year: did the students with the e-readers read more than the control groups, and did their reading performance increase relative to that of the control group? Below is the full concept note of the study.
Improved literacy leads to economic growth
Education and literacy are critical drivers of economic growth (OECD International Adult Literacy Survey 1994-98). Yet in much of the world, children have access to a small or negligible range of reading material. Distribution issues, logistical problems and payment difficulties all conspire to restrain the availability of books and written material in the developing world.
Emerging technology provides the solution
The technology of e-readers solves these problems. E-readers use the mobile-phone GSM network to provide near instantaneous access to hundreds of thousands of books, newspapers and magazines anywhere in the world. E-readers are lightweight, durable and use long-lasting batteries that charge rapidly.
E-reader cost is declining rapidly
The cost of e-readers will continue to decline and they will soon be as affordable as mobile phones. Based on benchmarking against historical prices of similar electronic components, the price point for such a device could be under US$100 within 18 months and under US$50 within three to four years. Worldreader will use the results of this pilot study to specify requirements and push for the development of an affordable, rugged e-reader that is designed for use in educational settings within developing countries.
The concept has been proven
With a trial conducted in Ayenyah, Ghana, in March 2010, Worldreader demonstrated that:
• E-readers can be used effectively in classrooms in developing countries.
• E-readers are easy for children in developing countries to learn and use (“as easy as using a cell phone”).
• Children read more using the e-reader than before.
• Teachers welcome the use of the e-reader in the classroom.
Next step is to conduct an in-depth study
The Ghana Ministry of Education has invited Worldreader to run an in-depth pilot on the use of e-readers in Ghana secondary schools during the 2010-2011 school year. The study, called project iREAD (Impact on Reading with E-readers And Digital Content), will evaluate the impact of e-readers in the classroom and on the students’ reading habits and abilities; explore the costs and potential savings involved; and assess the value of moving forward with a randomized clinical trial and scaling up to the widespread adoption of e-reader technology in Ghanaian schools.
This will be the first such extensive test of the use of e-readers in the classroom in the developing world run under controlled conditions.
Our prediction is that this pilot study will show that use of e-readers in the classroom will:
1. increase reading among students
2. improve student performance in reading, writing and English proficiency
3. reduce the overall cost of suitable reading material
4. increase the availability of educational content in classrooms
Providing access to a wide variety of suitable content
Our main objective is to make a wide variety of content available so that students can find material that is a) at their reading level, b) interesting and c) educational. Books will be chosen in conjunction with Ghana Education Services, teachers, local and international publishers. We strive to put an emphasis on local content.
Strong team and partners
The Worldreader team contributes expertise that is both significant and relevant. David Risher has a background in technology and business, having contributed to driving the early development of companies such as Microsoft and Amazon.com. Colin McElwee brings 20 years of experience in education and international market development. Mike Sundermeyer spent his career in product development at Sun Microsystems, Adobe and Macromedia, and is an expert in research design and implementation. Zev Lowe is a researcher and ethnographer who contributes his experience in educational technology, social entrepreneurship and international development. Elizabeth Wood contributes significant experience in publishing from her multinational career in journalism and communication. Susan Moody has worked in senior marketing roles in technology companies and will ensure the world hears about the success in Ghana, while Barbara Hummel, with her expertise in development, will ensure that funds are available for future roll-outs. Joseph Botwey oversees the daily operations of iREAD on the ground, bringing in considerable knowledge and experience working in Ghana.
We have a strong network of partner organizations locally and internationally, including USAID, Amazon.com, Random House books and ESADE Business School among others. Ecoband Networks and OrphanAid Africa in Accra provide on the ground expertise and support in Ghana. The Ghana Ministry of Education has appointed Dr. Nana Banchie Darkwah as Special Advisor to support Worldreader. The strength of our team and our partners ensures a professional and successful implementation of the iREAD pilot study.
Using a rigorous research approach
The iREAD pilot study will involve 481 students across nine schools, within which 337 students in six schools will receive e-readers while the 144 students in the three remaining schools will serve as a control group. The study will collect data to measure changes in reading habits. All groups will also be tested for reading level using standardized tests before, halfway through and after the pilot study. An independent firm based in Accra called ILC Africa will carry out the monitoring and evaluation activities.
Creating best practice
By creating a best practice for the use of e-readers in an educational setting in Ghana, we lay the groundwork for a randomized clinical trial in 2012, in which we can collect statistically significant data on the most efficient way not only to get books to students but to make sure those books are actively used as sources of knowledge and learning.
We believe we are at an important moment in the history of the African continent. There is a convergence of factors that indicates that now is the time to act.
1. 3G coverage in Sub Saharan Africa is now at 51% average penetration and increasing.
2. E-readers (that rely on 3G connectivity) are beginning to gain traction in developed world markets and their prices are falling dramatically (the Kindle has dropped in price from $400 to $190 in the last 24 months).
3. There are nearly two million books available for free in digital format and many more available at a very low cost.
Given these facts, we believe that e-readers and digital content have the capability to open up the horizon of available knowledge and give students a chance to learn independently, making an invaluable impact on the lives of these young people.
Read the full concept note of Project IREAD: Impact on Reading of E-Readers and Digital Content.