Billy Niyingabiye, age 11, puts on his headset, steps up to the microphone, and recites his lines. The child voice actor is recording a math lesson for use in Rwanda primary grades classrooms.
“I’m so happy. It’s something I never imagined,” says Billy of his work. He auditioned for the role at his mother’s urging and was chosen from a pool of 80 would-be voice actors. Now he’s helping other children learn math, reading, and writing skills thanks to interactive audio teaching materials produced at the recording studio.
The recordings are part of the USAID-funded Literacy, Language, and Learning (L3) Initiative, which is helping Rwanda’s Ministry of Education improve literacy and numeracy learning in primary grades classrooms. The program, implemented by Education Development Center (EDC), aims to improve the quality and availability of primary grades instructional materials across Rwanda.
Last summer, L3 installed state-of-the-art equipment to upgrade the Rwanda Education Board’s recording studio. There, interactive math and literacy lessons are being recorded in English and Kinyarwanda. Lessons are placed on memory cards, which teachers then play back over Nokia cell phones, some with attached speakers for larger classrooms.
“We provide the hardware, software, and technical support needed to produce world-class education materials for Rwandan children,” EDC’s Said Yasin told the Rwanda news daily The New Times. “This is a modern teaching approach [where] programs are set in a way that enables or facilitates the flow of teaching.”
Channeling interactive learning
Programs produced and edited at the newly equipped studio are examples of interactive audio instruction (IAI), which helps teachers use engaging and effective instructional practices and supports them as they master the new teaching methods.
The classroom teacher leads the lesson with the guidance of the audio recordings. The teacher and students receive directions in using supplementary materials, such as flashcards, decodable texts, and phonics charts.
Audio lessons include songs and chants to make learning more fun, and they encourage the use of manipulatives to make problem solving more tangible. A multiplication lesson might use no-cost items such as sticks, stones, and bottle caps, while a number chart may be made from a rice sack. Teachers may also attend workshops to learn how to write their own stories for literacy learning.
The audio recordings encourage interactive learning, a departure from the traditional lecture-memorization method. “This is much different from the way teachers are used to delivering their lessons,” says Francis Kihumuro, a member of the instructional materials development team.
“Children can be helped to think beyond the normal,” he says. “Usually questions are closed. But if you give them open-ended questions, it helps them think critically. It helps them find other ways to approach and solve a problem.”
Instructional programs produced in the newly outfitted studio were field tested in a local school. This year, 90 primary schools in Rwanda will receive first- and second-grade materials for English, Kinyarwanda and math. In addition to producing literacy and numeracy programs for children, the studio is also producing video modules on effective mentorship practices for training school-based mentors and on teaching and school leadership practices for teachers and head teachers.
Billy’s voice will come through loud and clear, guiding other students like himself.
“I like the subjects I’m learning and the teachers who are teaching them,” says Billy, whose school work and confidence have improved since getting involved with the program. L3 hopes to reach 30,000 teachers and 1.5 million learners in Rwanda over the course of five years.
As for Billy, while he enjoys his work as a child voice actor, he aspires to become a doctor or teacher when he grows up. “Because of the things we’re recording, we’re teaching children things they don’t know,” he says. “This will help them, because it is different from what they are used to, and they will learn more from it.”