Bloom in Kenya - A Teacher’s Story

Bloom in Kenya - A Teacher’s Story

Wawerũ Mwangi is a high school teacher who lives and works in Naiyasha, Kenya. He’s a linguist by training and has written numerous high school textbooks, as well as vernacular texts for primary schools and a teacher’s guide in the Kikuyu language, which have been approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

All this would be quite enough to keep anyone busy, but Mr. Mwangi also loves to write stories…

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Building up Bloom - Meet the Trainers

An interview by Malynda Tamang

Ms. Ruth Munguti has begun the process of becoming one of SIL LEAD's first Certified Bloom Trainers. We would like to introduce her and let her tell you why she is passionate about Bloom training.

Ruth working at the recent Mozambique Bloom training event, which she facilitated.

Ruth working at the recent Mozambique Bloom training event, which she facilitated.

Ruth: I was born and brought up in Machakos County in the Eastern part of Kenya. Having lost my father at the age of 9, I grew up with normal struggles like many other children. After my secondary education, I came to the city (Nairobi) and worked in the informal sector for three years.  It was during that time that one of my employers identified my talents and paid for me to pursue a diploma in Information Technology and Management. This was a two-year program and it was what opened my doors to formal employment. My first formal job was with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), where my primary duties were to create and manage Access databases. I was involved in training staff in computer applications and created websites for one of the departments.

After two years with NMK, I got a job with SIL as an Administrative Assistant in the Project Management Office where I continued to use Access database for SIL Africa Area projects. I have worked in this department since 2002 in various capacities and am now the Project Funding Coordinator for SIL Africa Area. Besides my Project Funding role, I work as the Finance Officer for the SIL Advocacy and Alliance Building (AAB) department. I am also involved in mother-tongue materials development. While working with SIL, I completed my Bachelor of Commerce degree in Accounting/Business Administration and Management and an M.A degree in Project Planning and Management.
 

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I am married with three children, Imani (9.5 years), Baraka (7 years) and Fadhili (5 years).

Malynda: Why did you want to become certified as a Bloom Trainer?
Ruth: I have a keen interest in technology and capacity building and therefore like taking such opportunities. Having worked with Bloom before, I want to train others to use it, to enable them to produce more books for learners.  I want to take part in giving the learners the tools that will enable them to become more competent.

Malynda: What do you value most about Bloom?
Ruth: Its simplicity and availability to those who would like to make use of it. The books available in Bloom that can be downloaded for children to read as well as to be translated into other languages.

Malynda: What sort of difference do you see Bloom making?
Ruth: There are writers, young and old, who have stories written or memorized. They do not know how to get these stories to a wider audience. Bloom allows them to make these stories into books and gives them the opportunity to publish them to the Bloom Library. They can also print them out for distribution. After a Bloom training workshop that I led in Mozambique, one of the participants said, “Now I can make my own books!”

Malynda: How did the Bloom Trainer Certification process help you?
Ruth: I learned more about Bloom as I went through the certification process. There were certain aspects that I didn’t know, I had the opportunity to ask and get the answers on how to do things I wasn’t familiar with.

Malynda: How do you feel about the Bloom Trainer Certification process?
Ruth: It is important to master our skills before we start training others. When we go out to train, it is necessary to have the answers to the questions that the learners will ask. The certification process really helps equip us for the task.

Malynda: Who do you anticipate training to use Bloom?
Ruth: A number of the staff in AAB are interested in learning Bloom. I would be glad to train any other groups that have an interest in learning Bloom and using it. Bloom has been gaining popularity and it is my hope that more training opportunities will come up.

Malynda: Tell us about some exciting ideas you have about how Bloom can be used in your context.
Ruth: A few years back AAB conducted research in a number of schools in the Eastern Region of Kenya. The purpose was to find out how some Mother Tongue (MT) books were being utilised in the schools. We also wanted to asses the impact on student reading competencies.  We observed that in most of the schools that we visited, the MT books were primarily what was available for the children to practice reading.  There were few other books available, except for curriculum books. Children who had continuous exposure to MT books were gaining fluency in reading. However, most children lacked reading competency. Part of the reason for this was that they did not have enough reading materials to practice reading. Bloom is a resource that can be used in such contexts to allow children and literacy workers to write books, print them, and make them available for reading. Books available in the online Bloom Book Library can also be printed and used by these children. Community authors and literacy workers can also use Bloom to come up with simple multilingual vocabulary books for use in their communities.

Malynda:  Thank you, Ruth.  Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ruth: I am grateful for the privilege to be part of the Bloom training team. Having gone through the certification process, I look forward to participating in future trainings and to pass on the knowledge to others.  

If you are interested in participating in the Bloom Trainer Certification, contact us at bloom@sil-lead.org

 

Stories

In the paper Learning to Live Together, Margaret Sinclair and Jean Bernard tackle the question,  “What can education systems do to build mind-sets supportive of peace, tolerance, respect for diversity and responsible citizenship.” As part of their approach, they advocate for the use of stories to teach ‘learning to live together’ themes: “There is substantial research to support the impact of carefully crafted, relevant stories on listeners in terms of bringing about associated behavioural change” (p.9).

In Annex 1 of their paper, ‘Some underpinnings of the use of stories,’ they discuss why stories are such vehicles for building important social and emotional skills. They list 5 characteristics of stories:

  1. Emotional impact of stories

  2. The role of empathy

  3. Narrative transportation

  4. Neural coupling

  5. Making it stick

Stories touch our emotions: “We have moist eyes after a sad film, or sometimes after a happy ending…At night…we dream in stories; that is part of how our brains work.” As we enter into the story, we have the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes and gain empathy for them. As we listen to a story, we are mentally ‘transported’ into the story’s world. We also begin to mentally track together with the teller. Stories that are “simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, [and] emotional” stick with us, as do the messages they teach. (See the paper for references.)

One of SIL International’s most effective teaching narratives is Kande’s Story: How a community can love and care for people affected by AIDS. The book tells the story of a little African girl, Kande, whose parents both die from AIDS, leaving her and her brother orphans. Critical information about HIV and AIDS are embedded in the story line. Stigma, marginalization, and exploitation are depicted, but also how to care for someone with AIDS and ways that a community can come around those who suffer.

At last count, Kande’s Story has been translated into 222 languages. That would place it at 12th on the Wikipedia list of the world’s most translated books! (It would be 4th, on this list and 8th on this one.)

Do you want to translate Kande’s Story into your language? You can find it in the Bloom Book Library. Download Bloom software and Kande’s Story and get to work

Here is our original blog post about Kande’s Story.

 

When Children Need Books: Part 1

SIL LEAD is dedicated to helping communities use their languages to improve their quality of life. One way that we do that is by helping children learn to read in those languages. The creation of Bloom by our partner SIL International has made it dramatically easier to create the books people need to practice reading. Bloom has received a great deal of attention for winning the All Children Reading contest this year, and we look forward to seeing how it will empower local authors. 

However, we are not the only organization that is working on creative solutions to get children reading in a variety of languages. Below in this first post, you can read about the International Digital Children’s Library. Next week we will talk about the African Storybook Project, and the third part of this series will compare these two projects—their content and interfaces. We hope that these descriptions will help you get a better idea of the solutions that already exist, and the work that remains to get all children reading well.

The homepage and a sample storybook page from africanstorybook.org. We will look at this project in the next blog post. 

The homepage and a sample storybook page from africanstorybook.org. We will look at this project in the next blog post. 


The International Children’s Digital Library

Displaying two pages of a bilingual storybook on childrenslibrary.or. The story is written in Tagalog on the left and English on the right. 

Displaying two pages of a bilingual storybook on childrenslibrary.or. The story is written in Tagalog on the left and English on the right. 

This first project is the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), which was created by an interdisciplinary team at the University of Maryland composed of computer scientists, librarians, teachers, and graphic designers. Their mission “is to support the world's children in becoming effective members of the global —who exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas—by making the best in children's literature available online free of charge.”

The project only accepts physically published books, some of which are under copyright. Books are chosen by educators, children, authors, and publishers, then scanned and added to the database. Website visitors can view digital copies of these books on the website, using a highly developed reading interface. The project does not support downloading, copying, or printing any of the materials in the collection. The site launched in 2002 and has had more than three million unique visitors since then. The collection contains 4,619 books in 59 languages, with users from 228 countries.

Reading a book in Gujarati using ICDL’s online interface

Reading a book in Gujarati using ICDL’s online interface

Although the project succeeds at providing digital images of the content of books for free, more books are available in languages and regions where they are less needed. Stated another way, the site provides more advantages to children who are already in more advantaged situations. The presence of effective publishing industries or non-profit sectors making high-quality books in North America, Europe, and selected Asian countries leads to a higher proportion of materials coming from these regions. The site hosts 975 books from Asia, 469 from North America, and 405 from Europe but only 103 from South America, 60 from Africa, and 53 from Australia/Oceania. Additionally, ICDL’s original goal was to provide 10,000 free books in 1000 languages. They achieved almost 50% of their goal for the number of titles, but just over 5% of their goal for the number of languages before the project’s activity declined. “Current news” postings on the website are abundant from 2002 to 2010, then drop off sharply, with the last one occurring in 2013, likely indicating that funding and interest have slowed in the last few years. The site is a useful tool as it is, but no longer seems to be growing.

Come back soon for the next post in our When Children Need Books series, which will address the African Storybook Project.

Thank you to our contributing author Megan Sutton Mercado.

 

 

Congratulations Bloom!

We are very pleased to announce that Bloom has been named the grand prize winner of the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) Enabling Writers Prize Competition funded by USAID, World Vision, and Australian Aid. The goal of the competition was to incentivize the development of software which makes it easy to create and export decodable and leveled fiction and nonfiction readers in mother tongue languages. After field testing in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Jordan, SIL International’s Bloom software was found to best meet the goals of the competition with the highest usability and functionality scores.

Simplicity has always been a key feature in Bloom’s development. Children in early grades, just learning to read, do not need complicated books. They need simple books with content that is relevant to their own culture and language. The process for creating these books should be as simple as possible too. The hope is that Bloom will empower and enable anyone to write many books, especially people from minority language communities. The lack of texts and storybooks often hinders literacy in minority language communities. With its ease-of-use, anyone with very basic computer skills can create an endless number of books. Users anywhere can also draw on the growing library of template books to adapt them to their local language and context.

With new feedback from the competition’s testing, the team looks forward to further improving the functions of Bloom. One improvement is that there will now be two ways to determine a “decodable” book. Bloom was first developed, with the help of SynPhony, to help define what letters and sight words are appropriate for a particular grade level. As a book is written, the software highlights words and letters that are beyond the intended grade level for that book.

One of the competition test sites showed that users wanted to be able to first input the “allowable” words for each grade level and then build stories using only words from that list. This method is unusual and was not anticipated by the Bloom developers. But in response to the testing results this option was added. Users will now be prompted to choose one of the two methods, and then Bloom will walk them through their chosen approach.

Congratulations to John Hatton and his the Bloom team; Norbert Rennert who added much value to Bloom with his SynPhony literacy tool; and everyone at SIL International and beyond who made Bloom the success it is and will continue to be. We at SIL LEAD are thankful to have been a part of the effort and look forward to many more children having books to read in their mother tongue thanks to the generous grand prize awarded to Bloom by All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development.

Related Links: 

Bloom is a Contest Finalist

SIL LEAD Literacy Specialist Prossy Nannyombi working with Michael Ongora on editing the Lebacoli grade 2 teacher's guide in Bloom software. 

SIL LEAD Literacy Specialist Prossy Nannyombi working with Michael Ongora on editing the Lebacoli grade 2 teacher's guide in Bloom software. 

We are pleased to announce that Bloom has been chosen as one of three finalists in the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) Enabling Writers prize contest. As a finalist in this software competition, Bloom will be provided to field projects in three countries for testing. The feedback from these users will be critical input to the selection of the grand prize winner.

It has been an exciting time for SIL LEAD to see firsthand how innovative, “low-tech” solutions can be leveraged to serve local language communities around the world. Most recently, we've seen 12 language communities in Uganda benefit from Bloom software through the USAID/Uganda  School Health and Reading Program. Using Bloom has made it easier for these communities to take ownership of the materials development and editing process for student books and teachers’ guides in Grades 1–4.

A new companion to Bloom desktop software is the Bloom library. There are already more than 150  books in the library that can be downloaded and adapted to local languages. When you develop new books in Bloom, you can upload them to the library for others to use. The library contains not only storybooks but also materials that creatively teach health, math, environment, science and many other topics. One example, The Leopard and the Tortoise, is a story about nutrition. Visit the Bloom library to see all the books.

We look forward to improving Bloom more as we receive feedback from the contest and from Bloom users worldwide