International Mother Language Day: ACR GCD Reflects on Progress, Challenges for Global Literacy

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. Absent this foundation, children struggle to master basic literacy skills, limiting their ability to pursue further education and ultimately hampering their social and economic capacity.

This is an issue that affects us all. If students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted from poverty, resulting in a more vibrant global society with increased economic capacity and decreased volatility.

Since its inception in 2011, ACR GCD’s leadership has contributed to the heightened sense of urgency around mother language instruction and materials and its implications for education in developing countries. ACR GCD made mother tongue instruction and materials a central focus of its Round 1 and Round 2 series of grant and prize competitions seeking technology-based innovations to improve early grade reading in developing countries.

Photo of a child using technology

Children receive local language stories, with comprehension questions, via SMS.

Among dozens of ACR-funded innovations for mother language instruction is Total Reading Approach for Children (TRAC), which involved the development and testing of the first Khmer-language literacy app in Cambodia. The ACR GCD-funded project by Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE) adapted 24 Grade 2- and 3-level Khmer-language readers into 72 electronic formats customizable to each student’s skill level. Another solution, Makhalidwe Athu (“Our Way of Staying”), enables community members to author early grade reading materials by submitting their favorite local stories and folktales through SMS message, voice recording or web form.

ACR GCD’s ongoing prize competitions also spur innovation in mother tongue instruction. The Sign On For Literacy global prize competition—which advances ACR GCD’s complementary goals of expanding mother language instruction and materials serving children with disabilities—seeks technology-based innovations to increase access to sign language to strengthen literacy outcomes for deaf children in low-resource settings.

ACR GCD extends our appreciation to all innovators and partners who have joined us over the past six years in forging new paths for mother tongue material development. The demand for such materials is high, and our work is far from complete. The opportunity to accelerate mother tongue instruction requires both traditional and digital innovations, and creative thinking is vital for the development of complementary approaches that support and enrich the development of books, resources, and training in all languages.  

As the world marks International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21, 2018, ACR GCD celebrates the progress made and champions the need for more acceleration to support books, resources, and training in every language so that all children access the fundamental right to a quality education.

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