Each ABRA group was then bussed to the Aga Khan Academy one morning each week for a 90 minute long session in the Junior School computer lab, which houses 24 computers each with full access to the software. These sessions were then supplemented with classroom extension activities delivered in their regular classrooms. Post-test data were then collected, again using the GRADE test, at the end of November.
Not surprisingly, due to an emphasis in the Kenyan curriculum on teaching vocabulary and word recognition, both groups gained substantially in that regard. However, on comprehension-related scores, students in the ABRA classes improved significantly more than the students who did not use the software. Specifically, they improved more on passage comprehension and listening comprehension assignments. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that, as a result of their improved literacy, students in the ABRA group also showed greater improvement in other subjects (particularly in math and science) on their end of year exams.
A desire to engage with ABRA and a thirst for learning with technology were clearly evident throughout the study. All the teachers gave powerful testimonials about how successful the use of ABRA had been and how positively it had impacted on their students. They spoke of how their teaching had changed and how they had come to realize that with the right tools every child is reachable. When asked to return their iBooks teachers appealed to keep the machines longer in order to continue to use the software, indicating that their students were asking why they couldn't use ABRA anymore.
"When I grow up I am going to ABRACADABRA University." - Class 2 student, Mombasa
During a formal reception, held at the end of the study, teachers, principals and students all spoke movingly about their experiences using ABRA and their deep appreciation of the positive impact of the software. One principal pleaded to make ABRA available to every student in Kenya. She spoke at length about the effect it had on the students in her school, commenting on the excitement of the bus rolling up each week, the improved overall marks in class 2 and the requests from other teachers in her school to use the software. The teachers spoke passionately about how they had become better literacy teachers, how much more motivated their students were and how much better they were doing academically. One parent spoke of how demotivated, sad and illiterate her son had become after his father died. He then began to learn to read with ABRA and had already begun to correct her English.
Jointly supported by AKAM and CSLP, Phase 2 of this project is already underway with data being collected from the non ABRA classes who are now using ABRA in the AKAM lab. This second phase is incorporating lessons learned from the pilot project especially with regard to how best to train teachers in the effective integration of the software into literacy instruction. In January, 2014, Phase 3 of the project will unfold with expansion to Nairobi made possible through funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada under its Partnership Development program.
Aligning well with the Kenyan Government's Vision 2030 and the Ministry of Education's expressed interests and directives in both improving literacy and in increasing technology use in schools, the Mombasa study was particularly timely. The team is now also exploring funding opportunities for a larger-scale, multi-year research and development project focused on combining the use of technology and well-focused teacher professional development to improve early literacy in a variety of other national contexts.
2013 Pilot Study
Financial and in-kind support for the project was provided by the CSLP, the Aga Khan Academies Unit and the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa