It is Wednesday afternoon when I walk into Kawempe Youth Centre, a community library in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb.
The centre is among the 10 libraries in the country implementing electronic reading (e-reading) through a partnership with National Library of Uganda and World Reader.
Seated in a circle in one of the shades at the centre are children aged between five and eight engrossed in reading on the e-readers everyone is holding.
Being guided by one of the librarians, the children take turns in reading storybooks. Everyone is impressed by how articulately every child reads. When asked how they get the children to come to the community library, Ruth Bulyaba, the librarian, shares that since they always have activities during holidays at the youth centre, the community is always ready to send in their children.
“We have a community radio where we announce our activities to create awareness about them. Even then, some parents walk in and ask about our holiday programmes,” she adds.
When the children come, they are divided and grouped according to their age and class.
They are then introduced to e-reading using the World Reader e-reader tabs that have more than 200 books in both English and Luganda.
“When the children are many and do not know how to use the readers, we engage them in group reading, where those who know sit with those that don’t. Alternatively, we also have individual/self-reading where a child who knows how to interact with the e-reader reads on their own,” Bulyaba explains.
In addition to this, they also help children revise for their holiday work, practice storytelling, among others.
Why promote literacy
Several reports have indicated the decreasing literacy levels of school-going children in Uganda.
An example is the recently released Uwezo Uganda Eighth Learning Assessment Report 2019 which indicated that the percentage of Primary Three to Primary Seven children who could read and comprehend a basic story at Primary Two level dropped from 39 per cent in 2015 to 33 per cent in 2018.
Because of such depreciating literacy levels over the years, such initiatives are good steps in the redemption process.
Since e-reading was introduced at the library in 2018, the centre has received more than 1,000 children.
“They like interacting with the tabs. Also, some of the books have quizzes and puzzles which the children like. In addition, everything is completely free. Last term, we developed a club of 15 children (involved in e-reading) so that they can visit and interact with other libraries to exchange knowledge,” says Bulyaba.
Apart from driving e-reading at the community library, the centre extends their work into willing individual schools. “So far, we work with Busy Bugs Kindergarten on Gayaza Rd, Exodus Community School, and New Midland Primary School, Kawempe. Under our information and education programme, we have a mobile library service element with 30 schools,” Catherine Amia, a librarian at Kawempe Youth Centre, explains, noting that this is for purposes of literacy, and so, the books handled are not on the curriculum.
Relevant way of training
“When we visit the schools, we group the children according to their classes and suitability of the book. We thus take them through the process of interacting with the e-reader tabs; such as finding the books, using the inbuilt dictionary and the vocabulary builder,” she shares.
Reading is done aloud to the children (depending on their age) as they follow with the e-readers.
If they are younger and can easily be distracted, the librarian reads out to them. But if they are older, then buddy reading, or coral reading (reading together at once) or reading in turns are employed.
Prossy Kyambadde, the director Busy Bugs Kindergarten, attests to how excited the e-readers have impacted her school.
“Although they were already reading with print storybooks, the e-readers brought a new excitement to reading. It was a whole new experience for them to learn how to use the tabs,” she explains.
Additionally, the children were even more thrilled to learn that the tabs had books in languages other than English.
“The readers have Luganda books, and for some children, this is the language they speak at home. It was a good thing for them to learn how to read it,” Kyambadde recalls.
Since getting the tabs this year, 50 children have so far used them. She notes that the syllabus limits little children on reading materials but having such a resource opens the door to more knowledge.
“They read about things outside the syllabus and find out about the world. In fact, once at school, we just go through different books according to their levels and since they are children, they will jump into it,” Kyambadde shares.
Further still, e-reading has been embraced by parents who do home-schooling. This is a group of 70 home-schooling mothers who were fascinated by the arrangement after one of the parents learned about it.
Ritah Egoda, one of the parents who home-schools four children shares that on top of the online resources they subscribe to teach their children, the e-readers have provided a boost for home-schooling due to the numerous books on just one reader.
Amia further emphasised that their goal as a library is to have a community where people can actively read and write.
“People are gradually embracing digital reading. The advantage with the reader is that when a child borrows it, they have access to more than 200 books yet if they are taking hard copies, the maximum anyone can borrow is five books,” Amia says.
Further still, the children in the community are always looking forward to monthly community activities and are very excited to read from the e-readers.
“The children we started with can comfortably use the tab. They can get a book, search for another one. It is interesting to see a child navigating the e-reader. But also, some of the teachers we are working with have embraced e-reading,” she says.
As she concludes, Egoda shares that today, the reading landscape has totally changed and we have to supplement our reading materials with electronic ones and resources.
About the World Reader
The World Reader is an international organisation that Kawempe Youth Centre came to know about through a partnership with the National Library of Uganda.
In 2018, under the Local Content for African Libraries project that aimed at encouraging children to read digitally but consuming their local content, was able to secure 50 e-readers with more than 200 books both in English and in local languages, a training manual and training on how to use the devices.