In 2013, SOS Children’s Villages, in partnership with Plan International, kickstarted the Open Space Literacy (OSL) initiative to enhance learning and improve literacy rates through the use of ICT. With the support of NetHope, SOS and Plan have spent the last two years working towards the integration of ICT into primary education to reduce illiteracy in the developing world – operating under the philosophy that literacy is a vehicle out of poverty and ICT, when utilized well, is an enabler for learning. With relatively high illiteracy rates, Kenya was selected as the first implementation country for a limited deployment phase.
In Kenya, 38.5% of adults and 29.9% of youth ages 15-19 are illiterate. At the root of illiteracy is an outdated education ecosystem, punctuated with inadequate education material, absent and unmotivated teachers, a clash between mother tongue and official languages, overcrowded classrooms and fundamental inequalities across gender, urban/rural populations and children living with special needs..
The project focuses on marginalized areas and such low resource settings require a cost-effective and creative intervention to stimulate learning and improve literacy.
“Supporting literacy is one of the single best investments we can make to help end poverty,” said Daniel Oloo, National ICT4D Coordinator at SOS Children’s Villages Kenya.
UNESCO (2010) states that “people who can read enjoy better health and greater economic opportunity, help create safer and more stable democracies and serve their communities more effectively. If all students left primary school with basic reading skills, more than 170 million people could be lifted out of poverty – a 12% drop in poverty”.
OSL offers an inclusive and easy-to-use, affordable technology solution to improve learning results, enabling maximum impact with minimal investment and requiring only a laptop and projector for an interactive educational experience. The project also provides a holistic training package to improve professional skills and motivate teachers with an emphasis on learning results – not just on technology. Communities and local stakeholders actively contribute to effective school governance and project sustainability.
The overall objective of the Open Space Literacy Project (OSL for short) is to increase quality of education, esp. the literacy skills of children in early grades 1-3 (ages 6-9) in schools in Kenya.
The OSL project targets the young children who are just learning literacy skills and grants them access to high-quality educational content (both digital and non-digital) focused on the promotion of literacy skills. This content is a mix of local content providers, content developed by teachers and, community-sourced material that inspires, are more interesting and engaging as they bring real life experiences to the classroom.
Technology packages for schools include low-power interactive projectors to broadcast content to the whole classroom; 5-7 laptops to be used in classrooms and for teachers content development; loudspeakers for amplifying audio to the whole classroom; a whiteboard and a pointer pen for teachers and children to interact with content; and solar power (if needed) to recharge the devices.
Content and solution partners include Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Africa Digital Learning Academy, MsingiPack, Worldreader and Graphogame. Technical partners including Lenovo, Nokia and BT are currently supporting OSL in defining a more optimized ICT architecture to maximize impact.
Since ICT integration in literacy is a newer concept, especially in the rural areas, early partnership with the local community, sensitization of communities on importance of ICT in Education and their role in support and sustainability has been crucial in ensuring acceptance and utilization by teachers and the community.
Impact to date
OSL has provided ICT integration infrastructure to 25 schools in Nairobi to date, impacting over 15,957 children, 580 teachers, 140 school board management members and more than 1000 community members.
The project has received a lot of support from relevant Kenyan Ministries including Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Teachers Service Commission and County government of Nairobi, who have each given an authority to implement the project. Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development have also provided digital and non-digital content for training teachers, and have provided facilitators who have trained teachers on Integration of ICT in schools as per the Ministry of Education ICT integration guidelines.
After training teachers and familiarizing parents on the importance of ICT in learning and literacy, the school board pledged and implemented security support to ensure the safety and sustainability of the devices in schools.
Schools also identified and addressed other factors affecting learning and hindering project success, like lack of desk space and seating arrangements. Before implementing ICT in additional schools, the government will have to relook at success and failure factors like the design of desks (slanted desks are a bigger danger to devices), the sharing ratio for desks (more students make it harder to use the devices and books at the same time), costs of the repair, maintenance and ownership of IT equipment, teachers capacity and sustainable content.
OSL has provided an important learning space for the government implementation and for other players intending to undertake ICT4E initiatives, and is providing telling evidence of improvement in learning thanks to the right combination of digital content localized, teachers capacity building and involvement of the community in school functioning and learning process of children.
In the next five years, OSL hopes to reach 300 schools and expand to several regions in Kenya, impacting 135,000 direct beneficiaries (children from grades 1-3), 225,000 indirect beneficiaries and around 4,200 teachers.
To learn more about the Open Space Literacy initiative, visit http://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/news/ict4d-in-kenya, or watch this short introductory video.