Building partnerships that improve learning

16 May 2019

By Martha Kamundi PhD, Academics Fellow, Bridge International Academies

As part of ongoing measurement and evaluation, Bridge has been using numeracy and literacy assessments like Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) and Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to assess competencies of its pupils. When an opportunity arose to pilot software that has built-in assessment to create an adaptive and personalised learning system, we did not shy away.

onebillion is a nonprofit organisation that have designed and built  comprehensive and scalable software for children learning both in and out of school. Like Bridge, it is focused on creating innovative ways to improve learning outcomes for children. The onebillion educational software – onecourse – approaches numeracy and literacy in the child’s own language using a suite of reading, writing and numeracy activities. Jamie Stuart, CTO and Director of onebillion approached Bridge in Kenya to assist in testing a new component of their onecourse software. The component would assess pupil learning levels and provide data to onecourse in order to align the rigour of the activities with the ability levels of the learner. At the time, onebillion was also one of five finalists for the well publicized $15M Global Learning XPRIZE.

The minute the children saw Jamie and I arrive at Kingston Academy on May 2nd, they knew that something good was about to happen. Shadrack Juma, the Kingston Academy Manager quickly set up Jamie in the hall, while I approached the children’s teachers. A few pupils from Grades 1-4 had been invited to participate in the pilot during the school day. As they came to take part, I introduced myself, asked them to tell me their names and then told them that they’d get to play a game on a computer tablet. Jamie introduced himself and the cool ‘game’. The game, which was in Swahili, had a digital teacher called Mahira who gave short and clear instructions in audio, on each activity and also provided encouragement to the children throughout. Jamie was a natural with the children, and quickly made them feel at ease. Pupils were well on their way to finishing the game. The test had a total of 15 questions. Children got feedback on their performance on each question right away, without breaking their spirit if they got a question wrong. Ensuring that children are not disheartened if they get a question wrong reflects the approach taken in Bridge classrooms.

Girl with headphones uses onebillion tablet computer
Pictured: A Bridge Kenya pupil uses the onebillion tablet.

The test went smoothly. By the end of the 3-hour session, several children who were not participating had heard news of the game. The children began hanging around in the room, waiting their turn! In the end, Jamie gave two tablets on game mode to two of the children. Within minutes, the room filled up with more curious onlookers! It became clear that while the game was an educational tool, it was also fun. The children who are used to their teachers using teacher computers in their classes were quite excited and comfortable holding a tablet and using the software. With Mahira’s and Jamie’s help, it was as if the children had been using the software all their lives.

Children gather round a onebillion computer tablet
Pictured: Soon, every pupil wanted to experience the onebillion tablet.

As with most research, you test and then test again. onebillion returned to Bridge a week later for additional testing. The purpose of the second testing session was to verify the accuracy and repeatability of the onecourse assessment component. We wanted to ensure that when pupils completed the test again, they received a similar, consistent score. When we arrived it was as if all the children at Kingston Academy had been waiting for us. This time, our interested audience was even larger and bolder! Due to the large audience, it was not possible to give out the tablets on game mode for play. Instead Jamie took a few group photos of the children holding the tablet.

Working with partners and helping to test ways of improving learning is an important part of working at Bridge. We are very proud of onebillion for being a co-winner in the Global Learning XPRIZE and are quite excited about future potential collaboration opportunities.

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