Portable information technology lab gives literacy a boost

Aug 16, 2017
10-Minute Read
Nancy Del Col is an Education Specialist with World Vision Canada. She recently embarked on a very exciting journey- to bring technology and learning labs to remotes areas of Kenya. This is the story.

Two people walk down a remote road pulling suitcases
After I arrived in Kenya, the local staff and I packed up the server and tablets we would use for the learning lab into two suitcases, then made the six-hour drive from Nairobi to our area development project. We wanted to make sure that the learning lab was portable, so Clayton Opiyo (the Education and Child Protection Advisor for this area) and I walked from the World Vision area office to Kimintet Primary School.

Two people wait in front of a metal gate in a remote location in Kenya
We arrived at the gate to the primary school in 20 minutes. Our first test was a success! The suitcases made it down the hard-packed dirt road no problem.

A groups of Kenyan men hook a tablet to a projector
Once inside the school’s lab, where they already have some technology in the form of laptop computers, we went to work setting up our Raspberry Pi server, loaded with literacy software, and tablets. Here, Amos Saida, a Digital Ambassador, stands by as IT expert Frederick Kiilu (on the right) tests things out with Clayton. Amos is one of the teachers who was trained by Concordia University in using their Learning Toolkit literacy software, which provides enhancement to the existing Kenyan curriculum.

A group of men and women sit at a table with tablets, smiling and laughing
Then it was time to show the teachers how the software and the lab work. Teachers from different grades and subjects had a turn using the literacy software their students would be testing. They had great fun with the animated activities and characters. Naomi Rotich (in the white sweater) is another of the school’s Digital Ambassadors. She is a grade two teacher, and a powerhouse advocate for literacy. Using technology in the classroom is a real passion for her, and both students and her fellow teachers love her.
The young man standing at the end of the row is Kevin Kipempeu. He was a youth volunteer from the local area who loves giving back to his community and was a great help throughout the pilot test.

Young students sitting at a table smile and watch a presentation
It was such a joy to watch the students faces when they were engaged in learning about the program. First the teacher walked them through the lesson using a projector and a tablet, and then they got a chance to try it on their own, with teachers, volunteers and World Vision staff available to help.

These students are learning from a literacy tool called ABRACADABRA  that takes them through increasing levels of difficulty in learning letters, letter sounds and vocabulary. These grade 2 girls and boys were very sharp, and zoomed through the levels faster than anyone else. My suspicion is that they were motivated by the treats we gave them at the end!

A man helps two students with a tablet literacy activity
The students who came into the lab were using their Saturday to do so. Here, Clayton helps them get started.
Students are expected to wear a uniform to school, but sometimes their families can’t afford them. Other children might have a uniform, and that could be the only clothing they own. Our schools don’t turn kids away, whether they wear the uniform or not.

A grade one class in Kenya sit with tablets around a long table
Here is the grade one class. You can see the server at the centre- it’s a small brown box called a Raspberry Pi. Having such a small, inexpensive server makes it easily transportable, and replaceable. It uses an SD card loaded with the Learning Toolkit software and is able to link with up to 40 tablets at a time.

Older students focus on their tablet literacy activities
These older students are in grade five. Many of them may have not been exposed to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in their educational experience. They may have never used a tablet before. But they learned quickly. I love the focused looks on their faces!

Two little children do an animated alphabet activity on a tablet
These two are from the youngest early childhood class, which would be equivalent to our Junior Kindergarten or preschool. Little Mark is four years old and is getting ready to learn the alphabet in this picture. By the end of the day, the children were singing the whole alphabet! This was a great result in a place where only 26-40% of grade five students can read a simple sentence. We’re looking forward to testing the lab in other schools in Kenya now!

All photos by Denise Archer.