This World Refugee Day, mobile technologies are filling educational gaps for millions of out-of-school Syrian children.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a manifesto created following the devastation of World War II that defined basic protections for all individuals and affirmed the dignity and worth of Humankind.
In a primary school in rural Cambodia, 10-year-old Sophal whisks his fingers across a mobile device as new words and literacy lessons appear in his native language of Khmer.
Things are different now than at the start of the school year, when Sophal was often absent from school for extended periods.
Two years ago, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, Pearson, and Project Literacy saw a key opportunity to serve the literacy needs of a major segment of the global population: the estimated 19 million children who are blind or have low vision and millions more with disabilities that impact their use of printed materials.
In a small village in central India, 7-year-old Gouri sits beside her father, the light of a smartphone screen gently illuminating both of their faces. They smile and laugh as they share experiences once unknown to them: the opportunity to read stories and learn facts about animals, birds, and colors in their native language of Marathi.
With the seven-year-old Syrian conflict showing no signs of resolution, millions of affected children are at grave risk of becoming a “lost generation.” After long periods out-of-school during their formative years, many are facing a lifetime of significant societal challenges due to their lack of basic literacy skills, while also struggling with the long-term effects of trauma and chronic stress.
The Problem Space
Textbooks undoubtedly enhance learning outcomes especially in large classrooms with poorly trained teachers and crumbling infrastructure. Challenges to textbook distribution are abundant—especially in low-resource settings—and increasingly well-documented ranging from supply chain breakdowns to poor knowledge management to misuse or no use at all.
It was six years ago that All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) recognized both the challenge and opportunity for educating children in the language they speak and understand.
It was this challenge that motivated ACR GCD to do whatever possible to move the needle on statistics that showed 40 percent of the global population lacking access to education in their mother language.
It’s difficult to fathom that in our global interconnected world of information and technological advances, nearly a quarter of a billion children are not learning basic literacy and numeracy skills—whether in school or not. This mass learning deficit poses one of the world’s most daunting challenges, and yet seems ripe for technology-enabled solutions.
At age 15, Louis Braille invented a system that opened up the world of reading to people who are blind, deaf-blind, and low vision. While attending the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris in 1824, he created the tactile system of six dots in a three by two grid to represent letters, numbers, and symbols.
Worldwide, there is estimated to be between 93 million and 150 million children with disabilities, though actual numbers are likely higher. Of these children, 80% live in developing countries and less than 3% are in school. Education systems often do not accommodate these children’s needs.