Commentary

The power of girls' reading camps for remote learning in Kenya

What have Covid-19 school closures meant for some of the world’s most vulnerable learners, urban slums and arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya? Our recent report for the EdTech Hub highlights how community co-operation – more than technology – can improve educational outcomes for marginalised girls.

Kenya confirmed its first case of Covid-19 in mid-March 2020. All learning institutions in the country were closed and the Ministry of Education (MoE) acted quickly to make online, TV and radio lessons available.

For girls in the poorest areas of the country, however, there was only limited access to these kinds of channels, meaning a sudden and damaging halt to their education. Keeping girls in schools in Kenya, ensuring they have the chance to transition into further education and work is already a challenge. It was this issue that led to the creation of the Wasichana Wetu Wasome (WWW): ‘let our girls succeed’ programme. The six-year FCDO/UKAid funded programme has been implemented in Kenya by Education Development Trust through collaboration with the MoE, supporting around 72,000 girls to help address the often complicated mix of barriers to their schooling.

Background to the project

The WWW programme provided an emergency response in partnership with Community Health Volunteers (CHVs), running girls’ reading camps in local communities to encourage peer learning. Each camp typically consisted of five girls coming together four or five times a week to listen to radio lessons, use WWW paper-based materials, and take part in group discussions. Solar-powered radios were given to all the households involved. Mentors and remedial teachers acted as the facilitators for the clubs, which ran throughout the school closure period in Kenya from May to December 2020.

While there is some evidence of how these kinds of girls’ clubs have a positive impact on protection, empowerment and life-skills development, there has been less consistent proof of the impact on learning outcomes. Education Development Trust undertook a study of the WWW project in the Kilifi and Tana River regions on behalf of the global non-profit research partnership EdTech Hub to examine the potential of the reading camps in more detail.

Researchers looked at the impact on the performance of 640 of the girls in reading and mathematics, along with their experiences of the school closures and evolving attitudes towards learning. The headline finding was that the reading camps, combined with paper-based learning resources, had the greatest impact on learning. Average scores for girls were 8.3% higher for reading (in Senior Grade Reading Assessments, SeGRA) and 17.6% higher for mathematics (Senior Grade Mathematics Assessments, SeGMA) compared to girls who had not accessed either. Radio lessons were not associated with higher performance in reading and mathematics, except for when girls listened to the radio in groups.

How barriers to learning were overcome

The study also shed more light onto the problems faced by girls, and why projects like reading camps can be so successful.

Nearly all the girls who participated in focus groups said they had been expected to take on more domestic chores during the school closures, doing laundry, preparing meals, cleaning, fetching water, collecting firewood, and helping on farms. Only 22% said they were able to read with a household member (but those that did had significantly higher scores on SeGRA and SeGMA).

Girls confirmed the suspicion that they were not in control of who used the radio or TV in their household. In Tana River county, only one girl said she had been able to follow some of the TV lessons. Daily internet costs were considered to be too high to even consider online learning as an option.

The camps were well attended because they were held locally in nearby schools, community learning centres or buildings used for religious worship. The teachers and mentors came from the community and were well-known. The camp mentors were mainly local pupils at secondary school or university level who made sure work and attendance was regular. All of this contributed to a sense of safety and familiarity, encouraging parents and caregivers to not only allow the girls to be involved but also reduce their burden of chores.

Remedial teachers played a crucial role. They supported learning, guided use of paper resources and provided feedback not just in the camps but when they met girls locally as they went about their daily errands. Overall, the camps had an impact on the girls’ attitudes to learning. More emphasis on group work and interpersonal relations was particularly appealing. Girls could take on teacher roles and explain ideas to their peers. There were more opportunities to make connections, collaborate and bond, leading to deeper learning and more shared commitment.

Policy implications

The research provides signals of how access to technology is not a panacea, especially in low-income contexts. What works within a particular community, among local people and the dynamics of their relationships, can matter more.

Provision of technology at a household level may not have the intended impact. Making sure there are mediators, like the CHVs and teachers who can manage access and the best forms of collaboration – not only through periods of emergency but also in periods such as summer holidays – is critical.

Peer learning can also play an important part in improving learning. This can come from allowing groups of likeminded people to be together and have more control over their learning. This is, notably, in addition to the continued value of providing access to books and other paper-based materials.

 

The Power of Girls' Reading Camps: Exploring the impact of radio lessons, peer learning and targeted paper-based resources on girls’ remote learning in Kenya, was commissioned by the EdTech Hub, supported by UK Aid and the World Bank. The full paper is available here.

The paper was authored by Donvan Amenya, Rachael Fitzpatrick, Ruth Naylor, Ella Page and Anna Riggall of Education Development Trust alongside Eunice N. Mvungu at Kenyatta University.