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.
Children in India enjoy a smartphone app with self-paced audio storybooks in the Marathi language created by ACR Round 2 grantee, Sesame Workshop India Trust. Photo credit: Sesame Workshop India Trust.
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.
Syrian refugee child playing winning EduApp4Syria game, Antura and the Letters, with her grandmother. Photo Credit: Norad.
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
Alpha testing of Track and Trace system in Malawi.
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.
Adaptive technology helps children who are blind, low vision learn to read
Nine-year old Alexa was born prematurely and diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity, which caused vision loss in both eyes. She’s one of an estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or low vision.[i] Alexa also has cerebral palsy, so she uses a wheelchair.
Innovations seek to increase child literacy in developing countries
On October 5 we celebrate World Teachers’ Day to honor the critical contribution teachers make to education and development. This year we highlight pioneering teachers working hand-in-hand with All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) grantees to pilot innovations seeking to make breakthrough progress in child literacy.