Innovative technology improves children's learning

Updated Mar 13, 2024

When Rwanda shifted its official language for school instruction from Kinyarwanda to English in 2019, girls and boys weren’t the only ones who had a steep learning curve to read, write and speak the language. Most teachers weren’t proficient in English, putting them under tremendous pressure to use the language for teaching their students. It was the third time the country’s instructional language had changed since 2008. Many teachers and students still used French or Kinyarwanda, especially in rural areas.

An innovative education research project with World Vision and the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP) at Concordia University is helping both teachers and students build proficiency in teaching and learning in English. From April 2020 to September 2023, researchers looked at the best way to scale online training for Grade 1–3 teachers in the use of a free, interactive literacy software developed by the CSLP called ABRA/READS.

ABRA uses a highly interactive animated format to engage children in fun play-based activities that develop foundational English literacy skills. The activities are based on the best available evidence for teaching low performing readers and include components of alphabetics, phonetics, reading fluency, comprehension and writing. The project, called “Using Technology to Improve Early Grade Literacy in the Global South,” involved 180 teachers and 17,775 girls and boys accessing and using ABRA/READS.

After as little as 30 hours of instructional time with ABRA/READS, students’ reading and comprehension skills in English greatly improved. The lowest-performing students in the experimental groups matched or exceeded students in the control groups performing at the expected grade level. The effect was the same for both girls and boys. Teachers also improved their digital skills. The 51 experimental teachers all reported a significant growth in their comfort level and skills in using technology tools in the classroom because of the blended in-person and online training approaches.

After sharing the impressive research results with the Rwanda Education Board (REB) in September 2023, the Director General of REB officially approved ABRA/READS software for national use by all Grade 1–3 teachers. It aligns with REB’s goals for early grade English literacy and integrating digital technology into teaching and learning practices. The project was funded by the International Development Research Centre's Knowledge and Innovation Exchange (IDRC KIX).