As governments, USAID, and other development organizations search for ways to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the e-reader raises a promising opportunity to make progress towards the 2nd Millennium Development Goal, to achieve universal primary education. The e-reader offers immediate access to reading materials that once took months to arrive – and even that arrival was not guaranteed.
Improved literacy would impact the entire nation of Ghana, as it has been clearly established that literacy correlates with increased income (OECD, 1999). In the Ghanaian context, literacy helps to address poverty levels of the next generation. Increased skills in literacy, as well as technology, will equip Ghana’s next generation with valuable tools for self-sustainability.
The final evaluation of the iREAD (Impact on Reading of E-Readers And Digital content) Ghana Pilot Study revealed that primary among the short-term benefits of the e-reader is that students had immediate and reliable access to books for academic and personal use. In the medium-term, student and teachers had access to reading materials and teaching resources that facilitate and significantly accelerate the learning process, since students are able to have direct access to information in a home setting.
In the long-term, final evaluation data strongly suggest that when the device is introduced and managed properly among primary level students, it has the potential to improve reading performance, and more importantly increase enthusiasm for reading as a lifetime habit. There were also many challenges to the management of e-readers within the pilot study. Major concerns were that the sample of students was not geographically representative, almost half of the e-readers experienced some breakage, and time exposure to the tool was greatly reduced.
The iREAD Ghana Pilot Study aimed to investigate the effects of introducing e-reader technology in Ghanaian public schools at the primary, junior high school and senior high school levels. More specifically, this study focused on the following questions:
- Did iREAD interventions affect student access to reading materials?
One of the most significant results of the e-reader technology was its dramatic effect on access to a greater number and variety of reading materials. The baseline evaluation found that although libraries provided book for JHS and SHS students, students could only access books on library premises during school hours. While the baseline evaluation found that students had significantly limited access to textbooks and books at home, students with e-readers had an average of 107 books each by the time of the final evaluation. Prior to the introduction of e-reader devices, teachers reported that insufficient numbers of books meant that students had to share available books, where certain subjects did not have any textbooks, and primary and JHS teachers could not assign reading homework to students. With the introduction of the e-reader, students immediately gained access to mandatory materials, as well as a wide selection of books, magazines, and articles of all genres. The Worldreader initiative was particularly sensitive to the appeal of Ghanaian books, giving students access to culturally familiar reading material in addition to international texts.
- Did iREAD interventions affect teacher access to educational resources?
The final evaluation similarly found that teacher access to educational resources appreciably increased. Teachers who had once been dependent on sparsely available and outdated textbooks could now use previously inaccessible supplementary educational materials, provided by Worldreader. The e-reader allowed teachers to conduct background research, create lesson notes, and design reading comprehension assessments for students. Since their work was made more efficient and easy, teachers reported having more time to develop the quality of their lessons.
- Did iREAD interventions affect student attitudes towards reading?
Data from the iREAD pilot study indicate that e-reader technology stimulated student enthusiasm about reading and led students to actively seek reading material that interested them. High student participation rates in voluntary reading activities organized by Worldreader also demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm towards reading. Teachers did note that students whose e-readers broke or froze were less enthusiastic, and that the hassle of charging d evices similarly dampened student interest. Despite these setbacks, however, teachers agreed that for the most part, students demonstrated increased levels of excitement around reading.
- Did iREAD interventions affect teacher and student technological capabilities?
The baseline evaluation established that students have limited access to technology outside of the e-reader, with nearly half of participants having never used a computer. The e-reader provided all users with daily exposure to technology, allowing them to develop practical communication technology skills that they may eventually apply to computers. Students indicated that they had no difficulties learning how to access the internet to do research and discover new reading materials, and they quickly became familiar with multimedia features.
- Did iREAD interventions have an effect on student reading performance in any meaningful way?
Standardized tests results indicate consistent improvement only among primary school students who received e-readers, especially those who were also offered OCE activities. No other growth in scores could be attributable to the e-reader since the control group also improved. Had the control group had less influence to read, perhaps the growth if the (E) and (E+OCE) groups would have been demonstrative of some kind of effect.
The iREAD Pilot Study also examined unanticipated results of the e reader, both positive and negative. These results are as follows:
Students shared the benefits of the e-reader with family and friends.
All students in focus groups reported having shared their e-readers with friends or family, potentially increasing the reach of the e-reader’s impact drastically, since study participants have an average of five siblings.
- Students and teachers learned to navigate e-reader technology very quickly.
Focus group discussions revealed that students and teachers adapted to the e-reader technology with ease, and rapidly developed a facility with the devices, including their internet and multimedia features, even though many were not familiar with computers.
- Challenges with e-reader loss and theft were less than anticipated.
Efforts to cultivate community ownership of the e-reader technology successfully kept theft and loss to minimal levels, with rates of theft and loss at less than 1%. However, it is possible that this rate would increase if the iREAD project is scaled up and extended to less tight-knit communities.
- E-readers increased exposure of Ghanaian authors.
Worldreader made a special effort to digitize local Ghanaian books in order to stimulate student reading with books that capture familiar cultures and surroundings. All 82 Ghanaian books that Worldreader has digitized are available on-line at Amazon’s Kindle Store, providing Ghanaian authors with an international reach.
- E-reader breakages were much higher than anticipated.
Over the course of the study, breakage rates reached 40.5%, reducing both the educational impact and cost effectiveness of the e-reader. The long-term sustainability will hinge on solutions that directly address the primary causes of breakages, such as dust and fragile e-reader screens.
- Certain e-reader functions, such as accidental book deletion, music, and internet, were problematic.
Teachers commonly raised their concerns that music, games, and the internet distracted students from the educational aspects of the e-readers, as well as attracting bullies who were likely less interested in the e-reader’s educational aspects than its entertainment capabilities. Accidental book deletion prevented students from having the full set of iREAD books.
At this time, the primary factor limiting the e-reader’s sustainability is the high device breakage rate. However, should technical improvements to the device reduce the breakage rate to minimal levels, and should the cost of the device continue to fall, the e-reader would be an efficient, cost effective method to distribute textbooks and educational material.
Finally, the final evaluation provided insight into questions raised during the mid-term evaluation:
- What makes OCE activities successful?
Results from standardized test scores indicated that (E+OCE) primary students performed better than their (E) and (NE) counterparts. (E+OCE) primary students received a total of ten Saturday OCE sessions, with each session lasting about three hours. Structured OCE activities targeted key language skills such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, listening, and writing. Outside of academics, volunteers believed that OCE students were exposed to new perspectives through interaction with mentors such as university students. At the same time, OCE program leaders shared that OCE activities boosted student confidence as students taught their mentors how to use the e-readers and realized that they could be mentors as well.
- What kinds of student backgrounds, student behaviors, and other factors are associated with the greatest benefits from the e-reader?
Results from the pilot study reveal that the e-reader affected reading performance most significantly at the primary level. Therefore, within this study, grade level correlated to the success of the device and served as a principal social factor. Standardized test results also suggest that primary students from non-agricultural backgrounds may have benefitted more from the e-reader than students from agricultural backgrounds. However, this finding requires further investigation and confirmation.
- Why are some of the scores among certain students not increasing significantly by the end of the project?
Initially, it was anticipated that reading scores would be the critical indicator of program success. As the project progressed, however, it became clear that growth in reading comprehension was incremental. It may take took longer than the estimated 7 months of exposure to appreciate impact in reading performance, especially among older JHS and SHS students who are past the age when reading interventions have the greatest impact. It is possible that improvement in areas such as spelling and reading speed have not yet translated into the essay writing and reading comprehension skills measured by standardized tests. Other students may not have improved in test scores due to e-reader breakages, which reduced exposure to the e-reader and lowered student morale.
- What books are (NE) students accessing, and how has the presence of the study affected their reading habits?
In a focus group discussion with (NE) primary students, participants reported having access to 2-7 books at home. At the SHS level, (NE) focus group participants reported having access to around 20 books at home. Similarly, baseline data established that (NE) students had an average of 7.5 books at home. It is unrealistic, therefore, that (NE) students with limited access to books could have actually completed an average of 3 books per week over the duration of the 31-week reporting period, as was self-reported.
Additionally, the evaluation team believes that the (NE) group was inadvertently influenced to focus on reading and to improve reading performance because they were being monitored. (NE) students were equally asked to maintain student logs, and this activity may have inclined the control group to read more. Also, with the advent of administering reading exams to the (NE) control group, students became highly aware and conscious that their reading scores were being monitored. This may have predisposed teachers and administrators to push reading and focus on reading so as to not have poor scores.
If any of these possibilities were true during the course of the pilot study, then the growth of the control schools would be higher than on average. The M&E team provides recommendations on improving the reliability of self-reported data and limiting the influence of the study on the control group in Section 7.
This is the Conclusions section of the IREAD GHANA STUDY FINAL EVALUATION REPORT, Final Version: dated January 26, 2012