Celebrating World Book Day in Rwanda always causes me to reflect on the level of access that children here actually have to books. At A Partner in Education, we have successfully carried out International campaigns to collect books to send to Rwanda, where children in British, French and American establishments have donated second hand books to be enjoyed by students at Umubano Primary School. But what happens when the students have finished those books or when they want to access materials outside of term time? In a rapidly developing country, where most of the parents of our students now have a smart phone, we need to start thinking outside the book and consider some digital alternatives.
Just over a year ago, after several months of in depth research into how best to establish ICT for learning in the Rwandan context, APIE first came across Library for All, an online library catalogue accessible to download on the play store. APIE had been searching for an e-reading solution for use at Umubano Primary School and immediately found Library for All to be a good match, with a range of books available in both English and Kinyarwanda. We were ready for this, having first sourced the best hardware, established good connectivity and power, and most essentially, provided training and support for teachers so that they had the confidence to use ICT.
Fast forward one year and the progress is evident. Last week, Umubano Primary School had special visitors - Library for All funders, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Imbuto Foundation – who came to see the app in action and they were very impressed with what they saw! Thankfully, they brought an extremely talented photographer, Clay Enos, with them, so you don’t have to take my word for this:
(All photos credited to Clay Enos: Bloomberg Philanthropies)
In the lesson, P2 Teacher Constance distributed tablets to every child in the class. They were instructed to open Animal Homes, a non-fiction text related to the P2 Science topic on Habitats. There was a buzz in the classroom as children located the app and opened the required book, helping each other to overcome difficulties and open the correct book, if for example, they had been distracted by the desire to choose a different story to the one that was instructed.
After a few minutes, the children settled down to work in pairs, reading the text together. Children were busy swiping from one page to the next, pinching the screen to zoom in on the photos and leaning across to check the pronunciation or understanding of key words with other pairs.
The lesson continued with Teacher Constance reading the text to the whole class. For some of the pages, she asked the class to read chorally. She also paused regularly to give verbal comprehension questions, to check understanding…..”But how does a bat sleep, do they sleep lying down like a human? Why do you think they like living in a cave? As usual, the children were captivated by the text and wanted to learn more. They were engaged in the lesson and clearly confident at manipulating the tablets for their e-reading pleasure.
At the end of the lesson, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ representative, Verna Eggleston, said that she could feel the excitement inside the classroom. She described it as a ‘magical moment’ and was thrilled to have been invited to take part in the children’s learning experience.
APIE continues to cherish the partnership opportunity with Library for All. Every day, it is clearer that Umubano students gain a great deal from the e-reading platform and see learning through ICT as a tool for equipping themselves with knowledge for the future.