Technology helps develop literacy and numeracy in Sub-Saharan Africa

31 August 2017

The Canadian project ‘Using Educational Technology to Develop Essential Educational Competencies in Sub-Saharan Africa’ has been awarded the 2017 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize.

The Centre for the Study of Learning & Performance (CSLP) at the Concordia University in Canada is awarded the Prize for their project that develops literacy skills in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly among Kenyan elementary school children, through its innovative combination of technology and literacy learning.

To improve teaching, learning and especially the low literacy levels in the world through innovative uses of technology, the Centre develops and distributes globally, without charge, accessible pedagogical tools through its Learning Toolkit Plus (LTK+) as part of the project ‘Using Educational Technology to Develop Essential Educational Competencies’. The evidence-based and self-regulating learning software program helps developing literacy, numeracy and other competencies of learners around the world.

In 2016, the project enrolled more than 5,000 learners, including 50% of girls with a completion rate of up to 80%.

“Years ago, the inspiration began when I realized that conducting and publishing high quality educational research was not the end game. Wanting to make a difference led to understanding the importance of literacy and the potential of educational technology,” said Dr Philip C. Abrami, director of the Centre for the Study of Learning & Performance at Concordia University.

Planting the seeds for early literacy through ABRACADABRA

Launched in January 2012, the project focuses primarily on developing literacy skills among Kenyan elementary school children. A local team of coordinators and LTK+ ambassadors have been involved in training and supporting hundreds of teachers in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kwale, and through partnerships with World Vision Canada, World Vision Kenya and I Choose Life, the use of the software has also expanded to remote regions.

All the tools in the LTK+ suite are bilingual (English and French) and include teaching of early literacy and numeracy through ABRACADABRA and a digital library called READS. While ABRACADABRA covers alphabetic, fluency, comprehension and writing activities, READS is a source of free digital books that, thanks to a partnership with African Storybook, also includes dozens of Kenya stories.

“The school children with whom we work love ABRACADABRA and teachers tell us that attendance skyrockets when the kids knew there will be an ABRACADABRA lesson that day.  But more importantly, children who use ABRACADABRA learn better and sooner how to read and write.  It is a way up from and out of poverty.  It is a way of brightening the future,” said Dr Abrami.

Teacher trainings and regular follow-ups ensure that the implementation of the LTK+ is effective, and a data collection supports the monitoring and evaluation of impact. An expansion of the project to other countries in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa is planned in the near future.

 “There is no question that this prestigious international prize from UNESCO will create enhanced visibility and credibility that will open doors in other jurisdictions and countries around the world for us to keep implementing our project,” said Dr Abrami .

This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be awarded to laureates from Canada, Colombia, Jordan, Pakistan and South Africa on the occasion of International Literacy Day, celebrated on 8 September. The prize-giving ceremony will be organized at UNESCO Headquarters and be part of the global event. This year’s Literacy Prizes will focus on Literacy in a digital world.