• Erin Inclan

Improving Children’s Literacy, Learning Skills, and Knowledge for the Future

Updated: 6 days ago


ECD caregivers (community volunteers) participate in Talking Book training for Ready2Read Malawi.

Q&A with Ready2Read Malawi on using Talking Books to support children, parents, and caregivers for early childhood development


Malawi ranks lowest in southern Africa for education performance; 74% of students in grade 2 fail to recognize a single alphabet letter. In response, ILC Africa launched the Ready2Read Malawi project in partnership with Amplio and the Association of Early Childhood Development in Malawi (AECDM). The initiative is made possible through the support of All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development.


The Amplio Talking Book was chosen as an EdTech solution to engage children, educate parents, and support training and capacity building for caregivers at 50 community-based childcare centers (CBCCs). In Malawi, most early childhood development (ECD) caregivers are community volunteers who support children's early learning.


To create the content, ILC Africa adapted Malawi’s early childhood development curriculum into audio lessons to promote pre-literacy/reading skills.


Talking Books have been in the field since February. We reached out to hear how the Ready2Read project is going. Project manager Paul Nguluwe, ILC Africa, and project officers Chimwemwe Chisale and Windeya "Wendy" Ziba, AECDM, responded.


Why use Talking Books for early child development?


Paul: Talking Books are a low-cost, sustainable solution that has been used successfully in Africa to train and inform beneficiaries in remote areas.


Chimwemwe: Talking Books are durable, rugged, and very easy to use, which is better handled by the communities.


Wendy: Also, the content is in a local language (Chichewa) that caregivers can easily understand—unlike mobile phones that are mostly programmed in English.


A CBCC caregiver and student named Andrew use a Talking Book together. ©ILC Africa

Who is using the device?

Chimwemwe: Parents, caregivers (teachers), and children (ages 3-5) use the Talking Book. Children mostly use the device with the help of their parents—not because they cannot do it, but because they have never been given a chance to try.

Paul: New content is being added to enable children to use the device on their own.*


*A boy named Andrew recently proved that kids can use Talking Books, too.


What response are you hearing from participants?

Wendy: It's user-friendly. All of the messages on the Talking Book are loved by children—including the alphabet, counting numbers, seven days a week, and calendar stories and songs. Caregivers, children, and parents resonate with the songs in the Talking Books. The songs are popular because they can sing along.


Chimwemwe: From the community perspective, they would have loved it if Talking Books had built-in rechargeable batteries*, like mobile phones.

*Amplio Talking Book 2 has a rechargeable battery. Released in June 2022, the ATB2 was not available when the Ready2Read project launched. The new device can also still be used with AA or D batteries in communities that don't have battery charging capabilities.

How often are you updating your content?

Chimwemwe: The Talking Book is updated with new lessons every three months. We have included teachers’ content and parents’ content, and we’re about to add children’s content. The children’s content will target the child's participation. This is where we will see if a child will be able to navigate the device because the lessons will be interactive.*

*To improve learning, lessons will prompt children to answer questions and record their comments directly onto the Talking Book device. Learn about user feedback.


What difference is the technology making?

Wendy: Children are learning, and they understand the lessons. For instance, more children are able to recognize and name the colors. Caregivers say that the Talking Book makes it easier for them to plan the lessons.

Paul: The Talking Book content serves as a guide in teaching. It makes teaching easier. Also, instruction is in the local language, which makes lessons easier to understand.



Caregivers like Neila Henderson say the Talking Book helps them with lesson planning. ©ILC Africa

Can you share an example?

Chimwemwe: Matrida Musopa, a caregiver in Nkhotakota District, was so excited to be using the Talking Book. She said that previously, she used to wake up in the morning with no objective on what to teach. This time around, the Talking Book is guiding her on what to do every day. She used to complain that parents had no interest whatsoever in supporting their children's language and learning skills. With Talking Books, parents are learning how to support their children in their homework.


Again, the Ready2Read lessons are not only designed to improve the literacy skills of children but also to build their skills and knowledge for the future.

Are there any messages or topics that seem more impactful?

Chimwemwe: There is no doubt that the lessons are impactful. For example, there's a lesson that talks about child protection and one way children can protect themselves is to not talk to strangers. In our society, there are more cases of child trafficking, so this lesson comes in right at a time when it is answering part of the problem.

Paul: Again, the lessons are not only designed to improve the literacy skills of children but also build their skills and knowledge for the future. Lesson 7 teaches children about similarities and differences in people and how we can relate to each other despite our differences.


 

Ready2Read was made possible through the support of All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development. Founding partners include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian Government.