Raising readers: Putting parents and schools in the co-design driver seat

This blog is the first in a series exploring Raising Readers, an EdTech Hub and Worldreader research project set in Kenya seeking to better understand what drives parental engagement in learning and generate new evidence on what works in terms of learner equity, quality, and cost-efficiency. This blog sets out the human-centered design approach undertaken by Kenyan school officials, parents, and teachers to deliver the mobile learning program in the home.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought to light the importance of parental engagement in education in new ways, particularly in terms of the growing use of digital technologies to support learning. Worldreader, a global digital reading organisation with the mission to enable everyone to be a reader, adapted its work in response to Covid-19 school closures and began delivering digital reading programs straight to the home via mobile technology in its work globally.

In Kenya, where Worldreader operates in and around Nairobi, it is partnering with  EdTech Hub in a research project called Raising Readers, designed to better understand how to meaningfully engage parents in their children’s learning when using mobile technology and digital content.  

Research on parental engagement in learning in low and middle-income countries is slim and more often than not, parents are not consulted or involved in the design of distance learning offerings. Yet experience shows that parental inputs are helpful in ensuring education offerings are parent- and child-centered, accessible, relevant, and equitable. Moreover, evidence shows that the co-design of technology for education by users is critical in its effectiveness.   

Process of co-design

With this in mind, in May 2022, Worldreader and EdTech Hub jointly convened two co-design workshops involving parents, school officials, and teachers. The aim was to co-design a set of digital and physical interventions that can positively engage parents/caregivers to support their children’s reading practices at home. 

Co-creation is an approach which turns on its head the idea that interventions must be designed for the intended beneficiaries. Instead, users for whom particular interventions are intended are themselves central to inputting into the design process of the interventions early on in the process. This is in recognition of co-creation’s primacy within the nine Principles of Digital Development which elevates the need to “design with the user”, which can be done either through conversation, observation, or co-creation. Co-creating with caregivers can help to pre-empt challenges in future intervention design and yield smarter design choices. Such a process also helps incorporate the specific context, culture, behaviours, and expectations of the users for whom the intervention is intended. When it comes to technology, users need to be closely involved in the design and implementation, as they know best what their needs and aspirations are.

Our co-creation process played a key role in designing five interventions being piloted for this study. The five interventions set out in the illustration below have been selected as a means through which caregivers can better engage with their children’s learning through the use of the Worldreader Booksmart app

Five interventions to test greater caregiver engagement with children’s reading

Segmenting stakeholder groups

With the principle of “designing with the user” in mind, the team held a co-creation session with two distinct groups of stakeholders. Day 1 was spent with a small group of stakeholders who have been active in the parental engagement space in Kenya (Keep Kenya Learning, Kidogo, Kenya Library Association, Busara Center for Behavioural Economics). Representatives of these organisations discussed the challenges, opportunities and the way forward for engaging caregivers in children’s learning. Stakeholders also shared perspectives around key points for consideration when designing the five interventions being proposed for this study. 

Day 1: Group Photos of all workshop participants

Day 2 of the workshop invited ~60 school leaders, Grade 3 teachers and parents of Grade 3 students from the 12 Nairobi-based schools where the first phase of the study will take place. These participants are from peri-urban schools in Mukuru Kwa Ruben and the rural zones in Limuru. After sensitising the group to what the project was about, participants were then divided into groups relating to each of the five interventions. Groups were made up of approximately 10–12 participants and had representation from at least one school from Mukuru Kwa Ruben and one school in Limuru. Each group had a mix of school leaders, teachers and parents.

Session aims and methods

The aim of the session was for facilitators in each of these groups to capture the direct experiences participants had in relation to the intervention in question, and importantly the main things the EdTech Hub and Worldreader team needed to consider when designing them. For example, when it came to nudges / messaging, feedback indicated that the time of day parents received messages from the school was a crucial input for the design. Getting balanced perspectives from the different types of stakeholders e.g., school leaders, teachers, and caregivers, was important in this process.

Following in-depth discussions each group had on two of the five interventions, the workshop engaged all participants in an interactive session with a round of short, quick-fire questions relating to all interventions. This was through the use of the Mentimeter application. Using their mobile phones, participants were able to engage with and see the responses in relation to questions asked about each of the interventions.  Participant responses were in real-time and provided both insights and an opportunity for community members to work on their mobile technology / digital literacy skills.  An example was a question, “If you were to receive messages from the school via your phone, at what time of day would you like to receive them?” (answers were “morning 8–10 am”, “early afternoon 11 am–2 pm”, “late afternoon 3–5 pm” and “evening after 6 pm).”  The insights from the community members were critical to the coming design phase for each of the five interventions.

This blog is the first in a  series on the Raising Reader study, describing the process relating to the co-creation workshops held by Worldreader and EdTech Hub. In the next blog, we will highlight the main findings coming out of the co-design workshop and how they are being applied to programme and research design.   

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