Building with Bricks: Hybrid Learning and Foundational Literacy and Numeracy in Kenya | #EdTech

Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. One built a house made out of hay. The second used sticks to build away. And, for the third pig, bricks were the way. Each thought the house of the other would fall and each was sure their house would stand tall. Adapted From: Mojim Lyrics (n.d.)

Many of us heard the story of The Three Little Pigs when we were little as we learned how to read, write and count. If you were lucky, you moved on to more intricate stories; tales of magic, betrayal, love, joy, and defeat. Stories of worlds beyond your own as you discovered whom you could become. If you were lucky, you moved on to complex numbers and mathematical concepts and uncovered the language of the universe. If you were lucky, you developed strong foundational literacy and numeracy skills.

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky. According to the Uwezo Report (2021), 3 out of 5 Grade 4 learners cannot read an appropriate Grade 3 text. While only 50% of Grade 4 learners can solve an appropriate Grade 3 maths problem. Without a solid foundation, these students are more likely to drop out of school and find themselves on the margins of society.  Critically, they are less able to act upon their immeasurable potential. As a result, they risk losing up to Ksh 127,530 ($975) per year in future income. In addition to social isolation, and living with the frustration of unmet expectations; of not being the best version of yourself.

Clearly, we need to do something about this. But what?

This was the topic for panelists on this week’s ‘EdTech Mondays Kenya’ on NTV. EdTech Mondays is a program that brings together different players in the EdTech Ecosystem – industry professionals, educators, and experts to discuss the highs, lows, and potential of Technology enabled education. The EdTech Mondays Kenya show is spearheaded by EdTech East Africa in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, and moderated by Moses Kemibaro.

This week, the panellists – Christine Akello (ICT in Education Trainer for GECS), Anne Kibara (Teacher at Ng’undu Primary and Junior Secondary School), and Abdinoor Alimahdi (founder of M-Lugha) – spoke about how we can improve foundational literacy and numeracy skills through hybrid models of learning.

Hybrid Models of Learning combine in-person and remote learning and edTech in unique learning environments. It combines the strongest aspects of classroom and online learning in ways that customize the learning experience for each learner while making content more accessible. This personalization and accessibility are why Anne, Christine, and Abdinoor champion using hybrid learning models to improve foundational literacy and numeracy. These models allow you to meet students at their point of need. Whether this is acquiring foundational literacy and numeracy through your mother tongue (as with M-Lugha) or adapting existing curricula for a student who has fallen behind, as with Anne. Anne credits hybrid learning models with helping a Grade 3 student develop foundational literacy and numeracy skills when they lagged behind their peers.

Indeed, it is not a secret that these models are effective. In 2017, a program broadcasting live instruction via satellite to rural primary school students in the Volta and Greater Accra regions of Ghana was found to improve the foundational literacy and numeracy skills of Grade 2 to Grade 4 students by over 50% over two years.

Hybrid models of learning work because they improve the quality of education. The aforementioned 2017 Ghana Study concluded that the improvement in foundational skills was a consequence of improving the quality of education, not the quantity. It also highlighted the importance of creating an enabling environment for the technology to shine. Not only did rural primary schools receive, in addition to other resources, computers with interactive software. They also received solar panels to power the device as the rural schools lacked reliable access to power.

As noted by the panellists, the absence of an enabling environment undermines the opportunity hybrid learning represents. Especially when one factors in the Government’s investment in digital devices and digital infrastructure. Presently, hybrid learning faces several barriers – like the lack of connectivity, technophobia, institutional delays in approving EdTech solutions, and the failure to adequately empower educators – that limit its capacity to help develop foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Additional barriers include the inaccessibility of digital devices at home, the cost of data, and the absence of parental engagement.  According to the Uwezo 7th Annual Learning Assessment (2021), 50% of primary students still cannot access online lessons because they do not have devices; 10% cannot access lessons because their parents refused, and another 10% cannot buy internet bundles.

Addressing these complex problems will require a rare commodity: political will. Those with the power to make and shape decisions have to not only care about creating an enabling environment, but they must also continue caring. That is the difference between handing out tablets to various schools and handing out tablets that come with the right software and working solar panels that allow them to charge in power-insecure areas. It is the difference between providing teacher training, and consistently facilitating practical teacher training. It is the difference between providing digital devices and working with network providers to maintain COVID-era support like free education bundles so that hybrid learning can continue at home.

If we get this right, and create an enabling environment for hybrid learning to improve foundational literacy and numeracy skills, we will brighten the lives of every single child in Kenya. We will be on track to nurture every child’s potential; empowering them to be the best they can be.

This begins with making common something we have long taken for granted; our ability to understand something as simple as The Three Little Pigs.

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