When starting my exploration into this week’s library topic, I came across lots of really interesting articles and blog posts on developing nations and libraries. It truly emphasizes how fortunate we, North Americans, are to be surrounded by such abundant resources and opportunities while developing nations struggle to have anything. This is the bleak reality in developing nations (in this case, specifically, Bahundanda, Nepal): “A room labeled ‘Library’ in which no books [are] visible…they [are] locked in a cabinet – all twenty of them – to prevent damage at the hands of the cash-strapped school’s 450 students” (Bernard, 2008). Fortunately, there are many special projects on the go to help support these developing nations. Although it is not “equal” or creating freely equal access across the world, it is a step in a positive direction of helping bring literacy to others in the world. Below, I have described several library projects that I have come across throughout my inquiry. The first few are mainly focused around print materials, but it shows how my inquiry led to discovering projects that involve technology.
Room to Read
My first foray into this inquiry project led me to Room to Read. John Wood, a former Microsoft executive, was the one who visited the school in Bahundanda, Nepal in 1998 that was mentioned above (Bernard, 2008). Inspired by what he saw, he left Microsoft and founded Books for Nepal which later developed into Room to Read (in 2000) which is an international literacy non-profit organization that helps build bilingual libraries, schools, and computer labs in developing nations (Bernard, 2008). Here’s a brief video that explains Room To Read, what they do, and why they do it (Room to Read, 2014):
…and here’s a more in-depth look at their work (Room to Read, 2014):
As you can see, Room to Read focuses on literacy and gender equality in education. They work with governments and communities in 10 countries in Africa and Asia, where they focus on early primary school for gaining literacy skills and secondary school for girls’ education (Room to Read, 2015). They assist schools by providing teacher training, support, and reading materials (such as by creating local language materials), and by repairing and improving learning spaces (Room to Read, 2015). Room to Read also has a program called Students Helping Students which encourages students to take action by organizing fundraisers and learning about the inequities around the world (Bernard, 2008).
The technology component of Room to Read is called the Computer Room in which they provide computers, software, a printer, voltage stabilizers, Internet connection, furniture, and teacher technology training to libraries (Room to Read, 2015). It is/was meant to have a “life-changing impact” on students, whereby it would provide core job skills and incentive to stay in school (Room to Read, 2015). Unfortunately, after doing a bit more exploration, I have come to realize that Room to Read has had to temporarily suspend the program (due to the economic forecast and past research), so although they will continue to provide support to existing Computer Room projects, they won’t be launching any new ones (but will continue to focus on their other reading programs) (Room to Read, 2015). I really wish they had provided a bit more explanation as to why they stopped the technology aspect (what was the research and feedback that prompted them to shut this portion of their program down?). Regardless, at least they have provided some technology to some libraries (and, hopefully, will continue to do so in the future).
Kitengesa Community Library, Uganda Community Libraries Association, and The Friends of African Village Libraries
I came across Kate Parry’s 2008 article “It Takes a Village – and a Library: Developing a Reading Culture in Uganda” after reading about Room to Read. In her article, Parry describes how young rural Ugandans and their teachers must learn in a foreign language (English) and struggle to have any books (generally one textbook for every ten children if they are lucky!) (Parry, 2008). Consequently, few children continue onto secondary school or higher education (Parry, 2008). Parry, after hearing from a director of a secondary school near Kitengesa, in southern Uganda, that he dreamed of having a community library, gave him a box of books which grew to become the Kitengesa Community Library (Parry, 2008). With assistance from the One Per Cent for Development Fund (a la the United Nations’ employees), they constructed a building for the library equipped with solar panels (so it could be open in the evening). Donations from the United States helped buy resources (books and newspapers), pay two librarians, and pay school fees for seven “library scholars” (students who help run the library) (Parry, 2008). In 2008, through a UBC connection, the library was offered a grant to create a computer center, which was then completed in 2009 (with solar electricity) (Kitengesa Community Library, 2013). The Kitengesa Community Library has inspired other villages to open libraries, which has resulted in the formation of the Uganda Community Libraries Association (Parry, 2008). Below is a video by Lily Hartling providing a snapshot of the Association:
The Uganda Community Libraries Association, which provides training for librarians and distributes small grants, is also associated with the Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL), which is a not-for-profit organization in the United States (Parry, 2008). The FAVL helps set up libraries, works closely with these communities, refurbishes community-donated buildings, helps train librarians, provides librarian salaries, and helps stock the libraries with books (by local authors and in local languages) (FAVL, 2015). The FAVL “is inspired by the vision that libraries throughout Africa will enable rural people to take charge of their own education and will provide a vital infrastructure for educational and developmental innovation” (Parry, 2008). Below is a short video introducing FAVL:
Electronic Information for Libraries
The Uganda Community Libraries Association (and the Kitengesa Community Library) have also recently partnered with EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) to help improve Internet and provide support for camps (FAVL, 2014). EIFL is a not-for-profit organization that works with libraries in over 60 developing and transition countries where they help organize training events, develop tools and resources, advocate for access, and initiate pilot projects (EIFL, 2015). They recognize that billions of people are unable to glean the knowledge from technology and the Internet because of barriers such as high subscription costs, legal barriers to accessing, using and sharing information, and lack of accessibility to technology (EIFL, 2015). Their vision is to have “a world in which people have the knowledge they need to achieve their full potential” (EIFL, 2015). This brings my inquiry from the above projects that are largely based on books to more technology-inspired projects.
Clealry, EIFL has a large number of projects on the go that support libraries, but I wanted to highlight a few examples below:
In Kenya, the schools are under-resourced and children often have to learn in rooms that lack electricity, computers, or internet access (EIFL, 2015). The EIFL Public Library Innovation Programme (EIFL-PLIP) provided a grant in 2013 to purchase seven tablet computers and a wireless internet router for the library in Kibera in partnership with the Kenyan educational agency eLimu (EIFL, 2015). eLimu customizes tablets for the Kenyan student learning by creating digital content in engaging ways, such as with animations, songs, games, and video (EIFL, 2015). eLimu not only created the digital content, but they also taught librarians how to integrate the tablets into the learning program and how to teach the children (EIFL, 2015). After a year of piloting, over half of the students felt that they had improved their learning in English, Math, and Science (EIFL, 2015). As result, the project is getting replicated in three more libraries in Kenya. See the video on the project below (EIFL, 2015):
EIFL Project: Tablet Computers Improve Children’s School Marks
Similar to the above project, the Busia Community Library in western Kenya also partnered with the EIFL-PLIP in 2012 in hopes of helping children pass the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams, which allows them to enter secondary school (due to the high numbers who struggle to pass) (EIFL, 2015). Together, they introduced a pilot project called Watoto kwa Watoto (Children for Children), which includes the use of six pre-loaded tablet computers in partnership with eLimu to help children learn the school curriculum (EIFL, 2015). Again, eLimu helped train the librarians to use them properly and the results were a success (EIFL, 2015). Not only did the children improve their school results, but they were also reported to be “more socially outgoing, well-mannered and curious about the world” (EIFL, 2015). Consequently, the Watoto kwa Watoto service is still being used in the Busia Community Library in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Maria’s Libraries (a non-governmental organization) (EIFL, 2015).
“Dr Robert Ouko” Memorial Community Library, which serves Koru, partnered with EIFL to provide e-readers pre-loaded with textbooks in all school subjects to children in southwestern Kenya who typically have no access to textbooks (EIFL, 2015). Initially, the Gordon Family (from the USA) donated 46 e-readers in 2012, which led to donations from other international donors resulting in over 200 more e-readers, school textbook, African author book, and reference book downloads from Worldreader, and free lunches for children (EIFL, 2015). As a result, academic performance increased, the school saved money using digital books (which was then put into the school’s infrastructure), and children were inspired to participate in other activities, such as drama and poetry reading (EIFL, 2015). The library is planning on expanding the program to include more schools in the future.
EIFL Project: ICT-Based Local Language Literacy Lessons for Children
The Fountain of Hope Lubuto Library in Lusaka, which serves vulnerable children such as orphans, teamed up with EIFL-PLIP in 2010 to create the OLPC Zambian Language Literacy Programming Project with the goal of teaching children to read and write (EIFL, 2015). Together, they created 100 literacy lessons in seven local Zambian languages using open source software, Etoys, which they then put on computers to use in the library (EIFL, 2015). Because of its success in helping children learn literacy skills in their mother-tongue, these lessons, as of February 2015, will be distributed across the country by the Zambian Government (EIFL, 2015).
These are just some of the projects I came across as I researched for this inquiry blog post. I actually had 15-20 more tabs open on my computer that I could have added in. However, I soon realized that my blog post was getting quite long, so I thought I should probably wrap it up. It’s actually quite amazing, to me, to see all these projects, partnerships, and initiatives. To imagine schools having no books and for students to struggle to pass even primary school is quite disheartening. However, projects, such as those above (and many others), bring some hope. Nevertheless, there are many things that can interfere with projects, such as cost, structural issues (i.e. no electricity), and maintaining ongoing support. The goals and drive of these organizations, such as EIFL and Room to Read, are honorable. Hopefully the more people who learn about them, the greater support they will receive. It would be an interesting topic to explore with older elementary or high school students (or school leadership clubs), perhaps even connecting them with Students Helping Students. It is definitely an area I’d like to peruse and think about further.
Bernard, Sara. (2008). Room to Read: Building Libraries, Schools, and Computer Labs in Developing Countries. Edutopia. Retreived from http://www.edutopia.org/global-education-libraries-developing-countries
Electronic Information for Libraries. (2015). Electronic Information for Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.eifl.net/
Electronic Information for Libraries. (2015). [Image of Children Using Tablet]. Retrieved from http://www.eifl.net/eifl-in-action/tablet-computers-improve-childrens-school-marks
Electronic Information for Libraries. (2015). Library’s Literacy Lessons to be Distributed Across Zambia. Retrieved from http://www.eifl.net/news/librarys-literacy-lessons-be-distributed-across-zambia
Electronic Information for Libraries. (2015). Supporting Education: Innovation Award. Library’s educational e-readers programme improves rural children’s reading skills in Kenya. Retrieved from http://www.eifl.net/eifl-in-action/supporting-education-innovation-award-0
Electronic Information for Libraries. (2015). Tablet Computers Improve Children’s School Marks. Retrieved from http://www.eifl.net/eifl-in-action/tablet-computers-improve-childrens-school-marks
Electronic Information for Libraries. (2015). Tablet Computers Support Learning of Slum School Children. Retrieved from http://www.eifl.net/eifl-in-action/tablet-computers-support-learning-slum-school-children
Friends of African Village Libraries. (2015). Friends of African Village Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.favl.org/index.html
Kevane, Michael. (2011). Friends of African Village Libraries and Sumbrungu Library in Ghana. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmtOml25R0c
Lily Hertling. (2012). Uganda Community Libraries Association. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVnQTrwVDsk
Parry, Kate. (2008). It Takes a Village – and a Library: Developing a Reading Culture in Uganda. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/global-education-uganda-community-library
Room to Read. (2015). Room to Read. Retrieved from http://www.roomtoread.org/
Room to Read. (2012). [Untitled Image of Children Standing]. Retrieved from http://www.roomtoread.org/students
Room to Read. (2015). [Untitled Image of Girl Reading on Board]. Retrieved from http://www.roomtoread.org/OurPrograms