Putting books into their hands

The recent textbook crisis that has crippled schools in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape has highlighted some of the problems relating to the production and ­distribution of traditional books. Fiction and non-fiction books have also suffered and disused, empty school libraries are common in poor communities.

The government and the education sector urgently need to explore alternatives. Electronic reading devices, known as "e-readers", could provide a sustainable long-term solution.

As prices of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle continue to come down, what was once regarded as a middle-class gimmick is playing an increasingly significant role in classrooms in the developing world. It can be seen in African countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, which have led the way with technology (see, for instance, ­worldreader.org).

With this global trend in mind, the eLibrary project (elibraryproject.org) is exploring the efficacy of e-reader technology as a tool for literacy development in disadvantaged schools in South Africa.

Using a sample of grade 11 students, the eLibrary project launched its pilot study last month at St Francis College, a small, low-fee independent school in Benoni, east of Johannesburg. Each of the 58 students will have their own Kindle to explore and use on a daily basis for one year.

The pilot study has involved extensive benchmark testing on the reading ability and interest in reading among the test group of students and we will measure the effect of these devices over a sustained period of time.

There are several reasons why we have chosen Kindles over other ­tablet devices, such as the Apple iPad, for our pilot project:

  • Kindles are easy to use and have an intuitive interface;
  • Unlike more energy-intensive back-lit tablets or smartphones, Kindles use e-ink technology that  makes for a more comfortable reading experience. As a result, the battery life exceeds a month, even with constant use;
  • Although the Kindle has basic web-browsing ability, it is primarily designed as a reader. Email or other web-based applications will not distract students; and
  • The Kindle can store up to 1 400 books and many works are available without copyright, giving students access to classic literature from around the world for free. Our Kindles are loaded with almost 300 classic and contemporary works.

Local publisher Pan Macmillan supports the project and has kindly donated e-books from its talented crop of local authors. They include University of the Free State rector Professor Jonathan Jansen and journalist Mandy Weiner, who has provided her bestsellers, Killing Kebble and The Youngsters series.

As a non-profit initiative, the project is dependent on the goodwill and generosity of others.

Although capital intensive, long-term savings in terms of electronic books will offset the initial cost of purchasing the device, especially if bulk orders of devices can drive down costs.

Part of our research will investigate the financial viability of these projects on a broader scale through a detailed cost analysis.

Once the pilot is completed, these and other research outcomes will be shared with policymakers and non-governmental organisations. We hope that our findings will assist them in determining whether e-readers could act as a realistic alternative to traditional libraries in underdeveloped schools.

Our overall objective is to get young South Africans to read more and to fall in love with reading. The ability to read well is not only essential for passing or achieving good marks, it is also a way of unleashing the imagination and enabling people to think critically about their environment.

We hope that this technology will catalyse an interest in reading in young people that will stay with them and develop over the course of their entire lives.

Mark Oppenheimer and David Ansara are co-directors of the ­eLibrary project, a non-profit, ­private initiative dedicated to ­promoting literacy development in South Africa through technology. See elibraryproject.org

David Ansara
David Ansara works from Johannesburg, South Africa. Wry commentary on politics, economics & finance. Advocate for free markets & individual rights. David Ansara has over 1102 followers on Twitter.
Mark Oppenheimer
Mark Oppenheimer works from Santa Fe, NM. Private Chef and Food Writer Mark Oppenheimer has over 74 followers on Twitter.
Advertisting

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa

What the law could clarify this year

Lawfare: Major developments are on the cards where law and politics meet, including the first amendment to South Africa’s Bill of Rights

The secret ‘Warmonger’ at the SSA

A listening device acquired by the agency is at the centre of an alleged R600-million fraud operation
Advertising

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.