Worldreader, an international nonprofit organisation and ODI, through the support of EdTech Hub, a global research partnership that empowers people by giving them the evidence they need to make decisions about technology in education, have today announced a research partnership that will generate new evidence about effective ways to engage Kenyan parents in children’s learning with the support of technology.
The Raising Readers project seeks to explore ways to meaningfully engage parents in their children’s learning when using mobile technology and digital content, especially since experience has shown that parental inputs are helpful in ensuring education offerings are parent-and child-centered.
The research project investigates the most effective approaches to supporting parental engagement in learning and generates new evidence on what works in terms of learner equity, quality and cost efficiency.
Global evidence indicates that parent involvement in their children’s learning is poor in low- and middle-income countries. Parents are rarely consulted or involved in the design of learning opportunities for their children despite evidence that suggests their role in early learning is powerful. Barriers to participation impede parental involvement. Research conducted by Uwezo Kenya in 2022 indicated that over 50% of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read a simple text by the age of 10.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, parents and carers were shown how important their role is in building children’s foundational literacy through home learning. This has continued growing even post Covid-19 pandemic; however, many carers lack the educational resources, capacity and connection with schools needed to effectively support their children’s literacy development.
Worldreader Regional Director for East Africa Joan Mwachi said the Raising Readers project and research with 14 schools in Kenya will promote reading in the home and school for understanding and critical thinking, encourage parents to build new habits of reading with their children, and support improved reading outcomes through dialogic reading. The research will also shed light on how r teachers/facilitators can promote reading to the community and home using simple technology.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was already in the midst of a global learning crisis. But as of 2021, 387 million children worldwide lack reading proficiency. Education is not equitably distributed. Those children in the lowest socio-economic tiers have much less access to education and lower learning outcomes, setting them up for a lifetime of learning poverty and economic needs,” Mwachi observed.
ODI Senior Research Fellow and Raising Readers principal investigator Susan Nicolai said the two organisations are working to research and implement a set of digital and in-person school and home-based interventions that can positively engage parents and caregivers to support their children’s reading practices at home. Parents, school officials, and teachers co-designed the interventions convened by Worldreader and the EdTech Hub in 2022.
“Co-creating with caregivers can help to pre-empt challenges in design and yield smarter design choices,” said Nicolai. “Such a process also helps incorporate the specific context, culture, behaviours, and expectations of the users for whom the intervention is intended. When it comes to technology, users need to be closely involved in the design and implementation, as they best know their needs and aspirations.”
With the research still ongoing, a recent blog by EdTech Hub highlighted insights from the baseline survey conducted under the Raising Readers project. The insights expounded on the findings of the project so far, including challenges faced by parents and caregivers when it comes to reading at home. Some of these challenges include the limited number of storybooks in an average Kenyan household. With limited financial resources, many households in the sample have very few storybooks for their children.
As a solution to this particular challenge, the Raising Readers project introduced Worldreader’s BookSmart app to these households. BookSmart is a digital reading program that has a wide selection of children’s books available for free to readers and simple reading activities for parents to do with their children in the home.
The beauty of BookSmart is that it is very convenient to use, available on any data enabled phone, including simple feature phones. Kenyan families can read on BookSmart regardless of location or time of day. Mobile technology can help address time barriers and facilitate reading anywhere and at any time with children. The findings have also shown that parents and caregivers value reading and have positive attitudes about their child’s reading abilities. This positive finding suggests parents value reading and will prioritise it if given the opportunity. Finally, a large percentage of parents and caregivers across the 14 schools have access to smartphones which means it is easier for them to access the BookSmart app when connected to data.
Worldreader and ODI will be releasing findings around what works in 2023 and sharing these with the Kenyan and global community.