Does a 40% breakage rate for Kindles in Africa matter?


Recently, I was sharing one of the more striking results from the USAID-funded WorldReader e-Reader Ghana Pilot assessment that should give anyone in ICT4D pause:
E-reader breakages were much higher than anticipated: Over the course of the study, breakage rates reached 40.5%, reducing both the educational impact and cost effectiveness of the e-reader. The long-term sustainability will hinge on solutions that directly address the primary causes of breakages, such as dust and fragile e-reader screens.
When I mentioned the 40% breakage rate to an educator, I received a surprising response: "So what? 40% of everything breaks." She went on to explain that in a book publishing program she worked on, 50% of the text books she distributed were not in use the next year due to water & insect damage, student damage, and loss. She figured a 40% breakage rate was actually an improvement, especially if a majority of those Kindles could be repaired.
In even better news, Worldreader is learning from their iREAD pilot results and is reinforcing Kindle screens, using stronger protective cases, and better user trainings to significantly reduce their breakage rates:
We see a clear downward trend in the breakage rate in iREAD. In addition to the dramatic improvement seen with the reinforced screen devices, our more recent programs have experienced much lower breakage rates: our one-year-old program in Kilgoris, Kenya, has a 6% breakage rate while our 5-month-old program in Uganda hasn’t had any breakages at all. The same goes for our newest fourth-grade classroom in Ghana, rolled out in mid-May 2012: we’ve had zero broken e-readers so far, even though the students in that class (like the others in our Ghana program) take the e-readers home every night. We’re applying those same learnings across our programs now, and teaching our partners as well.
One thing this should teach us is that breakage rates should be looked at relative to other solutions, even when there isn't an obvious "breakage" to be had. The most cost-effective solution may be counter-intuitive. So yes, breakage rates matter, but not as much as you might think.

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