Over two-thirds of public school students have access to technology – Oxford research

Oxford University Press East Africa today published the results of spelling tests showing exceptionally strong spelling scores from Kenyan students and high levels of dictionary ownership.

Oxford published the results as Kenyan students fly to South Africa to compete in the first ever African Spelling Bee final and shortly after the launch of the 9th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD).

The research conducted in May this year saw 363 secondary school students around Kenya complete a standard spelling test. The words were taken from the Oxford 3000 – a list of the most commonly used words for English learners.

Across all the students, the average score was 78 per cent, with more than four-fifths – 81 per cent – of the students reporting that they owned home dictionaries. However, the average score was significantly higher, at 82 per cent, for the 38 per cent of students with a home dictionary who reported using it more than once a day.

The survey also found that 36 per cent of the form 2 students had access to a smartphone, 12 per cent to a computer, and another 13 per cent to both a smartphone and a computer, meaning that almost two-thirds of public sector students now have access to technology as part of their learning.

“The priority given to education by Kenyan parents comes through powerfully in our research, said John Mwazemba, GM, Oxford University Press East Africa. “It is a testament to Kenyans’ commitment to education to see four-fifths of school students reporting that they have a dictionary at home, and scoring A grades.”

The strong results tie in with research from Financial Sector Deepening, which shows that up to a third of Kenyans consider education a higher priority in spending than food.

This emphasis is resulting in clear educational leadership, with Kenya’s youth literacy rate now standing at 85.9 per cent, compared with the average youth literacy rate for sub-Saharan Africa of 70.5 per cent.

The relative strength in English is linked to leadership in other academic areas too, according to research by Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania, which found that an improvement in English Language Proficiency (ELP) among students correlates with an improvement in their general academic performance.

The educational community in Kenya hopes this educational prowess will shine through at the pan-African Spelling Bee, which will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July16th.

Three students, AbigaelSimiyu, Paul Mwangi and Elma Wanjiku, will represent Kenya, after winning the Kenyan Spelling Bee earlier this year.

The Kenyan leg of the competition, which took place in April this year, used the ninth edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD) as its official dictionary.

The dictionary, which is commonly used in Kenya, has been updated with a number of new features including brand-new word finder notes, lesson plans, 700 new words in the print book, and an additional 200 new words on the DVD-ROM and online. It contains over 185,000 words, phrases and meanings.

Patrick White, Publisher of the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, said: “Kenya is one of the countries where Oxford’s dictionaries are used the most, and I’m delighted not only that the 9th edition of the OALD was selected to be the official dictionary for the Kenyan Spelling Bee but also that this research has underlined the value of a good learner’s dictionary for all learners of English.”

Kennedy Odoyo, Kenya National Spelling Bee Coordinator, added: “We partnered with Oxford University Press and made the OALD our official dictionary due to the dictionary’s amazing features. We could not be participating in the South Africa competition had we not used it.”

The winners of the Kenyan competition will be among a group of 27 young learners from nine African countries including Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda who will take part in the pan-African competition.

They are expected to leave the country this week with a send-off from the Minister for Education Dr Fred Matiang’i, as they aim for the grand prize of a fully paid undergraduate scholarship to attend Monash University South Africa, worth over Kshs 2 million.

Oxford University Press (OUP) conducted research in May to establish the relationship between dictionaries, smartphone and computer use and spelling ability among Kenyan secondary school students. The research was conducted through a questionnaire and a spelling test and covered 13 schools in Kakamega, Nakuru, Migori, Laikipia, Nyandarua, Nakuru, West Pokot, Siaya, Kisumu and Uasin Gishu counties.

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