The use of the kindle has greatly promoted the basic ICT skills of the teachers and students of the schools that have benefited from this pilot project. From the start, it appeared a rather complex task for the teachers who saw it for the first time. Through continuous practice, the active teachers have learnt a lot and even some pupils have acquired the basic skills. This is an encouraging trend for our learners in Oyugis.
Loading credit onto the kindle accounts caused a lot of mess and the funds in some cases were never spent wisely. One would easily be lured into purchasing books of their choice but in the long run realize they are not relevant to the curriculum. I feel this made some of the funds go to waste not really benefiting the children and teachers.
By introducing Worldreader, a great change has happened; the schools get the books directly onto their kindles. By just clicking on the archived items, a list of books appears and download with ease. I am glad; most of the books selected by teachers in Oyugis area have been posted onto the kindle.
A case in point is Nyabondo School. They were the last to receive a kindle and when I visited to help them download the books, I was surprised they had already done it, wonderful!
I see a remarkable improvement on the use of the kindles and I believe the schools will achieve a lot more knowledge and skills on the use of the kindle for e learning.
Leonard Odongo – School link programme manager.
Editorial Notes by Julian Harty:
The schools had a budget to purchase books from the Amazon store. Sometimes irrelevant or inappropriate books were bought, which depleted the budget to buy more relevant books. Thanks to World Reader’s help we provided a list of books in Swahili. The various schools collaborated to select a common list of books that would suit them. I then paid for these books and they were distributed electronically in January 2014.
The schools have reopened on 2nd September 2013 after the truncated summer break (some schools extended their previous term into August to help the pupils catch up after the Teachers’ strike finished).
In Oyugis our schools liaison person will be visiting each of the 7 schools to meet face-to-face with the teachers to discuss their progress to date and to agree on how to improve the ways the kindles are used to help the teachers and the pupils.
To prepare for these discussions we reviewed all the purchases made to date.
There were 74 items ordered, these include free books, the bible, occasional newspapers, text and reference books, and various novels including various crime novels
Roughly 14 books were directly related to Swahili and/or the Kenyan curriculum
Most of the items seem to be feasibly relevant to the schooling however we’re concerned about some of the seemingly irrelevant purchases, particularly once schools had become more familiar with using the devices.
We aim to help the teachers and the schools to limit the amount of irrelevant items in future. One of the safeguards is the relatively limited funds made available to each Amazon account. When the funds are spent they are spent and the school needs to account for their purchases. Schools who spend wisely are able to buy more relevant books and receive top-ups more easily than schools who’ve spent unwisely. The unwise schools are asked to commit to buying more relevant items before they receive a top-up to their account.
Here is some good news from the local Cognizant team in Bangalore:
“The work at the schools to repair the computers has started well. Within the next 2 weeks, 4 schools would have at least 8-10 computers working (current scenario is that 2 or 3 computers work). These necessitated visits from Cognizant’s network and support team. In most cases, the issue was missing RAM chips. So the team decided to add the RAM chips as well as provide a lock to the CPU cabinet.
We also recently attended a workshop conducted by “IT for Change”, who train teachers in using Edubuntu software. The teachers along with students conducted some activities such as ‘Mapping of school and neighborhood’ and updating the information onto “OpenMaps”. They were trained to use “Freemind” software to create mindmaps. The students with the guidance of the teachers created ‘Photo and Video essays’ during their field visits to the market place, police station, electricity substation etc., The other activities were to collect and tabulate family details (leading to overall Community information) AND ‘Vegetation survey and mapping’. We attended the 2nd day of the 2 day workshop and it was awesome to hear and see the work on the teachers and the students.”
During my visit to Bangalore in July 2013 I managed to visit Yediyur Government school, near Yediyur lake, Jayanagar, with two of Cognizant’s team who help with various schools in the Bangalore area. They’re part of a much larger programme across Cognizant who help support schools across India as part of their corporate social responsibility.
During our visit I was able to see first-hand how the schools used the computers they had and to talk to the teachers. This school had at least ten working computers running a mix of old versions of Microsoft Windows and the free Edubuntu software. Until recently the teachers had received training in how to use Edubuntu as part of their teaching. However, the visits had petered-out for various reasons and the teachers were less confident of using Edubuntu due to lack of practice or familiarity.
Like the other state school I’d visited there were plenty of broken computers and screens. They used to have a 3G connection to the Internet, but large unexplained bills had discouraged the school from using it and the 3G device was missing when we looked for it. As ever, the electricity supply was overstretched and prone to fail. However across Southern India there are news reports of chronic under-capacity of power generation so the school appeared no worse off than many other Electricity customers.
The pupils really enjoyed using the computers, particularly some of the programs provided with Edubuntu and typically sat two or three to a chair and worked collaboratively with the program they were using. The teachers were very supportive of the children and volunteered their time after school to help the children use the computers informally.
After our visit to the school I spent some time with the team from Cognizant and we were able to share experiences and ideas for ways to help the current set of schools and through helping those schools to help those schools help other schools with their computing. We agreed we needed to find scalable ways to help schools support themselves, each other, and ideally for those schools to help schools who weren’t directly supported by either Cognizant or the Fisherman Trust.
We decided there were several ways we could help immediately:
The local network and support team from Cognizant could investigate the problems and causes of faulty equipment. They would fix some of the problems and then help the schools to find ways to fix the other computers where practical.
Reinvigorate the training for the teachers in using Edubuntu. Cognizant volunteers would also help the schools learn how to install Edubuntu so the schools could be more self-reliant and resourceful.
Raj, of the Fisherman Trust would send a couple of copies of the Zoombinis software to the team at Cognizant so they can evaluate it with one or two of the schools they support. We could then consider ways to procure more copies if the software seems to be useful for those schools.
Conversely, the Cognizant team has lots of experience, particularly in installing and configuring Edubuntu that the small team in the Fishermen Trust can apply in the schools they help. We really appreciate their friendly and open advice and expertise.
Teachers across Kenya were on strike when the time came to wrap up the pilot project. This meant the schools were closed so the visiting team were unable to see the Kindles in use at the schools. However the teachers kindly found time to meet our volunteer team who had flown from the UK to interview them. Our volunteer team are:
Here is a photo of one of the interviews:
The strike also delayed some of the follow up work for the pilot project in terms of implementing some aspects of the next phase of the project. However, the strike has since finished and I understand the schools will be open for several weeks in August to compensate for the time the schools were closed by the strike.
We will cover the interviews in more detail and the findings of the initial pilot project in additional articles.
During the week of 13th May, we are doubling the number of e-readers in Oyugis with the schools, with another 7 devices available for the pilot schools. We also provided a 3G Wi-Fi router to enable one of the schools to have rural Wi-Fi so they can connect and use the Wi-Fi only Kindles directly without needing to visit the local Wi-Fi hotspot in Oyugis town after hours. The 3G Wi-Fi router includes an internal (removable) battery that enables the router to work for up to a school day without needing external power. And we also provided several solar storage devices (basically a USB-based battery unit that can store energy collected from the sun and provide it when needed).
We are going to decide on how to distribute the additional equipment in the coming days based on feedback from the schools and the project coordinators in Oyugis. Kachieng secondary school is likely to receive several additional devices based on their helpful reports and feedback. They have been able to explain why having the additional devices will help them with their teaching.
Our initial model is to create a cell structure for each school. A school needs at least one eReader device, they may have more devices if the usage warrants and justifies more. Each device is configured with a shared Amazon account (which can be used to share content on up to 5 devices in parallel, according to Amazon’s web site). So a single purchase can be downloaded onto up to 5 devices and therefore any teacher can use any available device.
These names can be used to find their respective wish list. However, at the moment, Amazon.co.uk does not allow us to purchase items on behalf of the schools from other Amazon accounts. Therefore, at the moment someone with access to their Amazon account needs to login using the respective account details to pay for items from the wish list; the schools do not have Internet access so it’s impractical for them to do so. Alternatively gift certificates can be used to credit the account and enable the school to purchase items autonomously. Once others can directly pay for items from a school’s wish list we can transition towards a more federated, independent system with no centralised authority or arbiter of purchases, etc.
Services such as Amazon’s whispercast https://whispercast.amazon.com make content distribution easier using a hub and spoke distribution model (where content can be distributed to one or more groups of accounts). This service currently limited to the US amazon market.
 model = an approach, design, or hierarchy (pick whichever word seems most appropriate) that represents how we structure the use of the device(s) and Amazon account for a school
One of the aims of the pilot project is to learn and refine the project, another is to help guide the next phases of the project. Data can help provide concrete information, both now and historically. Given the distributed geographic nature of the project and team, the limited facilities to gather data from the devices, etc. we are using a mix of low-tech and technical approaches to data gathering. We have the permission of the schools and the team in Kenya to publish copies of their notes and reports.
Low-tech data gathering includes handwritten notes in a small notebook. Each device has one of these notebooks. We asked the teachers to make a written note each time they use the eReader; while we acknowledge they may not always do so, we have already been encouraged by the relatively frequent notes they have made during the first two months of the pilot.
We also have limited information available on how far someone has read through each book, by using the automatic synchronisation facility provided by the Kindle service. The details of the wishlist for each account, and the book purchases are also tracked by each account. Note: a book is ‘purchased’ even if the price is £0.00
Leonard also visits the schools and interviews the teachers quite frequently and we have received several formal reports from senior teaching staff e.g. headteachers. Here is an example of a short report from Kachieng Secondary School. They provide a good example of how an additional device would help their teaching.
On Valentine’s Day we launched the pilot program with 3 pairs of schools. Each pair consists of a primary school (8 years of schooling from 5 years old) and a secondary school (which covers 4 years of schooling). The Kenyan schooling is known as 8+4+4 with the final 4 years intended for university or college.
We held a workshop with teachers from the 6 schools, and with various school governors, the local chief, a representative from the district education, and various senior pastors, together with several people from the UK and several local staff of the charities we support.
I (Julian) ended up taking charge of the teachers during their tutorial / experimentation which was fun and surprisingly effective.The teachers has 2 sessions where they experimented with the devices to learn how they could be used. At the end of each session various teachers shared some of their discoveries with the teachers from the other schools. This helped them to realise they have more to gain from being open and collaborating, than if they kept their discoveries private.
The teachers each signed for the devices as part of establishing the formal pilot project and so they realise they’re now responsible for them. The don’t have to repay anything if the equipment is lost or damaged though. That wouldn’t be useful or productive… They each have a copy of a guide on how to maintain their device and keep it safe. They seemed very excited to use the eReaders.
In Kenya there are 2 people helping with the ongoing support: Leonard who liaises with the teachers and is helping encourage and support them to use the devices productively, and Jeremiah who deals with the technical aspects e.g. establishing Wi-Fi connectivity and helping with charging the devices where the school has no suitable power. We left Jeremiah with the spare Kindle.