Kent State develops children books for Kenya

Amadeus Smith

School houses in Kenya usually run bare of any reading material for elementary school students. They often receive book donations from the United States though.

Despite the increase in books, students in Kasigau, Kenya, often can’t relate to the material because it is typically about things common to the United States and not to Kenya. And, not relating to the material could deter learning.

With this in mind, education associate professor Beverly Timmons, education graduate student Jennifer Ferrell and Ken Cushner, executive director of international affairs developed seven children’s books to send to Kenya. The books include content and photos about Kenya.

“It’s a way to connect them with their local context,” said Cushner, who took the photos for the books.

But the group lacks funding for the books, and they can only afford to print a relatively small amount.

Academic program director Linda Robertson said The Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education provided enough funding to print 10 copies of each book, 70 books in all. The total printing will cost $490, at $7 per copy.

Initially, the amount would seem enough. But in attempting to provide reading material for six schools with three grades each, Timmons said, 70 just doesn’t cut it.

Until they can print more, the schools will share the 70 copies and the Kenyan students will have to rely on a bike messenger, of sorts, to carry the books from village to village.

The book’s creators have asked the World Bank to provide more funds to print the books in Africa rather than printing in the United States and shipping them.

“Shipping is pricey,” Timmons said. “There is a tax for the recipients (Kenyans). And it’s slow.”

Most young students in Kenya learn three languages at a time: Kiswahili, English and a third language specific to their village. Timmons said learning three or more languages at once can lead the student to memorize instead of comprehend the material.

“Memorizing is not a sufficient step,” she said. “You have to understand what you are reading.”

But the new books will help the students make a connection with what they are reading.

For instance in Count with Me, students will read that there is “one bottle on a woman’s head” while looking at a picture of a Kenyan woman with a bottle on her head.

The counting and color books each have two versions, a book more suitable for pre-school level students and another for elementary level. The group also created The Sounds of Dance, A Busy Life in Kasigau and Going to School in Kasigau.

“They were developed to give the children of Kasigau culturally relevant and age appropriate books with which to improve their literacy,” said Ferrell.

Contact School of Exercise, Leisure and Sport reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].