May 15, 2017 5:46 pm
Updated: May 16, 2017 1:16 pm

Vancouver entrepreneur launches reading program in Uganda

The first SiMBi classroom is solar-powered and located in the middle of rural Uganda.

The Walking School Bus
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A new reading program designed to empower access to students in Uganda through literacy is getting some help from schools in Vancouver.

The program called SiMBi was developed by 24-year-old Vancouverite Aaron Friedland. He came up with the idea after learning about the obstacles Ugandan students faced while attending school.

Although Friedland is now an economics lecturer at a Coquitlam college, struggling in school is something he could relate to firsthand.

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“I struggled academically pretty much all my life. I’m dyslexic and learning to read was something that was always very challenging for me, so it kind of demotivated me as a student,” he said.

“I wanted to create an app that motivated students locally… to motivate students to connect with their work. There’s often very little incentive to connect with your education.”

How does the program work?

SiMBi requires local students to record themselves reading letters, words, sentences and stories aloud. The recordings are then uploaded to a database where students in Uganda can learn English by reading and listening simultaneously in a SiMBi classroom.

When Friedland was finishing his Masters degree, his thesis referred to SiMBi and looked at the question: Does reading while listening actually improve student fluency?

In a 30-day trial conducted in rural Uganda, he found that students in Putti village became better readers after reading with the app for 10 minutes each day, compared to students who just had books.

“Fluency is one of the predictors of academic success. It’s a very important part of economic development,” says Friedland.

The organization recently returned from a trip to Uganda where they built the first SiMBi classroom- a solar powered shipping container classroom.

SiMBI was recognized in 2016 by the Next Einstein Competition and the award was presented by Anderson Cooper.

In addition to developing SiMBI, Friedland serves as the executive director of The Walking School Bus, which aims to help students worldwide access education.

The Walking Bus is hosting a five-kilometre walk at Langara Park on May 28th. The distance represents the journey that over half a million Ugandan students travel each day to get to school.

Proceeds will be going towards building two classrooms in Mbale, Uganda this summer.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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