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Case #6: Project Kané – Reading Tutors in Accra (Ghana) and Mongu (Zambia)
By Oriane Boutinard Rouelle
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As stated in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, education is a fundamental human right, and so is literacy: “Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory”[1]. Project Kanéis small-scale project, implemented in 2007 in the cities of Accra in Ghana and Mongu in Zambia, which made available to disadvantaged children an automated reading device/tutor to improve literacy.

Set up in a few days, this project explored the role of technologies that could play a roll in improving English literacy rate in under-resourced schools. The pilot lasted three weeks and enabled selected children to use the reading tutor for 30 minutes a day at a nearby Internet cafe that had accepted to participate in the project.
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This tool works on a very simple basis: it displays stories on a screen and “listens” to a child read aloud. The tool uses speech recognition to analyze reading and is able to give graphical and spoken feedback – after detecting a long pause, a severely misread word or a skipped word, and when the child clicks for help. In case the child needs more help, the reading tutor is built in a way that it can pronounce a word out loud, split it into syllables or help the child with a “rhymes with” hint. It is also capable of transferring a word into a made-up human narration, to model expressive reading.

Thanks to a great variety of stories of different reading levels, the tool is easily adaptable to big level discrepancies and makes progress easy to assess. True beginners would refer to low difficulty levels and the reading tutor would focus on word-building exercises, based on easy “spelling-to-sound correspondences[2]”.

None of these children had a prior computer experience but they all had basic understanding of English. The children were given a very short and simple fifteen-minute introductory lesson on how to move the mouse and the cursor on the screen, how typing on the keyboard would make letters appear on the screen and basic features of the software. Some kids immediately wanted to know more about uppercase letters and how to erase letters if they made a mistake. Within a couple of sessions, they all felt at ease with the tool, eventhough some words, like “roster” (which is American English, not Ghanaian) kept disconcerting more than one child!


Overall though, children were very enthusiastic about the project, and with less than 20 kids participating, but fewer computers available, queuing on the side, with crayons and paper, was proper torture — coloring could not compare with reading on a computer!

But the benefits of Project Kané do not just come down to improvements in reading abilities. The reading tutor is a very low-cost tool that has proved to provide humble but effective results in very little amounts of time. A few minutes a day, on a few computers only, could improve oral reading fluency and written spelling, on a much bigger scale.


[1]http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
[2]http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1160&context=robotics

​Read Case #7: One Laptop Per Child in Ghana