The Right to Read

Technology to bring literacy resources to refugee and remote communities.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rebecca Leege

CREDIT AllChildrenReading.org.jpgTwo-hundred-and-fifty million children across the globe are not learning basic literacy and numeracy skills. Of these, 57 million children—a disproportionate number of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, live in conflict-afflicted countries, are disabled, or are girls—aren’t enrolled in school at all. Without literacy, children are likely on a lifetime trajectory of limited educational progress that leads to limited economic opportunities that ultimately results in unsafe, unstable societies.

Technology is empowering great progress in reaching children across the globe with needed literacy resources, from development to delivery.

That’s the problem that All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) is addressing with an ongoing series of grant and prize competitions that leverage technology to source, test, and disseminate scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early-grade learners in developing countries.

Several ongoing projects funded by ACR GCD, or co-funded with partners, take advantage of sustainability made possible by the global prevalence of mobile phone technology and increasing Wi-Fi access to reach children with literacy resources. Field results show great promise.

EdTech Around the Globe

In Amman, Jordan last week I had the opportunity to participate in our field test of three innovative smartphone apps designed to help Syrian refugee children learn to read. Given that an estimated 2.8 million Syrian children have been displaced from their homes, and many are still not in school, it was exciting to see that these mobile games could be effective at building foundational literacy in Arabic, their mother tongue, as well as promoting psychosocial wellbeing among kids who may have experienced the trauma of war and displacement.

The apps were developed as part of the EduApp4Syria competition, led by the Norwegian Government and conducted with a coalition of global partners including ACR GCD, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the mobile network operator Orange and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies.

We invited 30 Syrian children to test beta versions of three games with an underlying aim to facilitate their continued learning and future reintegration into school. (Their families have resettled in Jordan due to conflict in Syria.) It was encouraging to discover that the mothers were glad for their kids to spend time playing these games, which they said aligned well with their personal values for educationBest of all was our young “testers’” enthusiasm, perhaps not surprising considering that some of them had never even held a phone before. Release of the winning apps are anticipated next March.

Also in Amman, another All Children Reading grantee has built a comprehensive, interactive and animated Arabic early grade literacy app that includes more than 125 eBooks. Little Thinking Minds’ leveled digital library is accessible through online and offline platforms in schools, complemented by after-school literacy clubs for participating students. Three-hundred-and-fifty students at 10 schools are participating, with potential for national and regional expansion.

Five-thousand-five-hundred-and-eighty-three kilometers away, in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Nairobi, All Children Reading provided funding for Xavier Project and Eneza Education to pilot a project that supplies seventh- and eighth-grade students and their teachers at two primary schools with phone access to subject-based studies, tutorials, quizzes and more. ENEZA is a mobile Short Messaging Service (SMS) study tool that comes with a live Ask-a-Teacher feature students can use if they’re struggling with challenge areas. In the first three months, 1000 students participated and together took more than 41,000 quizzes.

ACR GCD also funded Creative Associates’ project in rural Zambia that uses radio and mobile phones to support child literacy. Called Makhalidwe Athu (our way of staying), the project is focused on crowdsourcing community stories and folktales—via SMS message, voice recording or web forms—and promoting parental engagement in their child’s reading. Popular local radio stations air the stories and generate interest through contests and voting. Literacy specialists adapt favorite stories to grade-appropriate texts, sent by SMS to parents’ phones so children can practice reading at home. This promising project is expected to benefit some 1,200 students in 40 school communities.

Technology is empowering great progress in reaching children across the globe with needed literacy resources, from development to delivery. In our experience, innovation goes hand-in-hand with collaboration. ACR GCD itself is a partnership of USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government. For more information on edtech projects and ACR GCD partnership opportunities, view our innovator profiles at AllChildrenReading.org.

Rebecca Leege is the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development Project Director at World Vision. Contact her through Laura Blank: lblank@worldvision.org

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