Kenya’s Kids & Kindles: Mobile Technology Brings Education to Rural Africa

Apr 25, 2012

Article ImageTechnology, it is said, has turned the world into a global village. In Africa, modern technology-especially mobile devices like e-readers-is changing almost every facet of human life more than on any other technology anywhere in the world. To many, the spread of the mobile web is Africa's version of the great industrial revolution that swept through Europe in the 19th Century and created opportunities and wealth to propel Europe into the success it is today. No other continent has fully embraced and tapped into the potential of information communication technology (ICT) like Africa has over the past decade or so.

Today, remote village outposts that were connected to each other by narrow, dusty footpaths are now connected to the outside world through the internet. Gone are the days when farmers in the remote corners of the continent were paid peanuts for their farm produce; today, thanks to the power of the internet, they are able to check for the latest market prices for their produce at the click of a button.

Over the last decade or so, Kenya has made giant steps in the adoption and implementation of technological advances that touch millions of lives every day. It was Kenya's entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that gave the world the first mobile money transfer platform that has gone on to be replicated in other parts of Africa, India, and Latin America.

With a spring in its step, Kenya is taking another giant stride towards implementing its much publicized Vision 2030 strategy that is meant to propel this East African nation into a middle-income economy in just 19 years. According to the blueprint, Kenya has identified the adoption of ICT technologies as a key economic driver of the national economy towards the realization of its socio-economic targets.

By creating an environment that has allowed the incubation of ideas and the birth of new strategies, Kenya also seeks to embrace the adoption of ICT curricula in schools in a bid to create a new breed of information technology-literate population.

Kindles in a Rural School

One such initiative is now at a pilot stage in rural Kenya. Thanks to this initiative, the young children at Ntimigon Primary and Pre- School are able to harness the power of technology through the use of ebook readers or Kindles supplied to them through a program known as The Kilgoris Project.

Says David Lemiso, the director of The Kilgoris Project: "The program, which entails the use of Kindles at Ntimigon Primary School, started in 2008. Since we started the program, we have seen a huge improvement of learning at the school since the children are keen to learn."

This being a rural community tucked deep in the heart of south-western Kenya on the peripheries of the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, the adoption of new technologies such as the Kindles, makes more sense for the poor rural community since buying text books for the children is expensive.

Says Shadrack Lemiso, the head teacher at Ntimigon Primary School: "Since we brought the Kindles, the children are devoting almost all their time to reading. Even during the short and lunch breaks, the children will sit under the shade and read story books. This is a welcome technology as the children have really improved in not only their reading skills, but also in their sentence construction skills. It is a revolution."

The fact that the Kindle also has audio features; it has helped instill a reading culture for the kids as well as for the teachers.

Feeding Curious Minds

According to Caren McCormack, the president and co-founder of The Kilgoris Project, the ebook reader program is an initiative between The Kilgoris Project and Worldreader. "Worldreader worked with Kenyan publishers to digitize local text and story books," she says. "They trained our staff on the Kindles."

World Reader first piloted the program at a high school in Ghana, before they brought it to Kenya where it is now being used for the first time in a primary school. McCormack adds, "When we introduced the Kindles, we had hoped our students would read more and read better. The results have far exceeded our expectations. The students are choosing to read for pleasure, choosing books over football at breaks. It is a sign that they are feeding their curious minds and developing a love of learning. We are seeing an exponential return on our investment."

According to McCormack, The Kilgoris Project initially pumped more than $15,000 into the program and they are now happy that it has borne fruits. The Kilgoris Project, McCormack says, is looking at adding more Kindles and ebooks to the program.

"Each device can hold up to 3,000 books. That is a whole library in a child's hand," explains McCormack. "Kindles and ebooks hold huge potential for the Kenyan education system."

According to Shadrack Lemiso, the ebooks are less expensive than printed books. "And what is more, the ebooks do not have to be shipped, and they never wear out, like traditional textbooks. This means that they can be used for generations."

"The beauty of using the Kindles is that since they can store many books, this could be a one-off investment for parents and the child can use the kindle all the way to university level," says David Lemiso. "This is a technology that needs to be adopted for our education system."

Aside from accessing their books from e-readers, the children are also able to conduct quick research on the internet thanks to Wi-Fi capabilities through Kenya's leading mobile telecommunications company Safaricom.

As you might imagine, battery life is a major concern in rural Kenya. The 10-inch e-reader can run for up to three weeks on a single charge. That, according to David Lemiso, is a bonus, especially for rural schools like Ntimigon where connection to the national grid is yet to be realized.

Currently, Ntimigon Primary and Pre-School have 51 Kindles. The school has about 250 students and since the introduction, says Shadrack Lemiso, enrolment at the community school has risen.

Can Kenya fully digitize its education system and do away with traditional text books? Only time will tell. But the experiment Ntimigon Primary and Pre-School has been ruled a success, and the program has laid out a map for Kenya, and the rest of Africa.