All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development celebrates impact on increasing literacy for children worldwide

The Grand Challenge is concluding 12 years of funding and testing innovative EdTech solutions and approaches to increase reading outcomes for marginalized children in low-resource contexts

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development celebrates impact on increasing literacy for children worldwide
A young girl reading a digital book on a smartphone

A young girl reading a digital book on the Global Digital Library. (Photo Credit: Pal Laukli)

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) is celebrating landmark contributions resulting from its extraordinary 12 year partnership convening global solvers to tackle some of the biggest barriers to child literacy to advance early grade reading outcomes for children, especially children with disabilities. The Grand Challenge has catalyzed global action to advance educational technology (EdTech) research and solutions, ultimately improving reading outcomes for more than 1.2 children over 12 years. ACR GCD is concluding on September 30, 2023.

ACR GCD was launched in 2011 by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian Government, and is the second and currently longest-running of USAID’s 12 Grand Challenges for Development. It is the only one that focuses on education. ACR GCD has leveraged multiple prizes and challenges to identify, test, and scale innovative open-source solutions for improving literacy in low-resource contexts. By assuming the risks of research and development through its funding and support of awardees, ACR GCD has catalyzed innovation and advanced EdTech for literacy in some of the most marginalized and low-resource contexts.  

Throughout its lifespan, ACR GCD has awarded more than $25 million (USD) across 14 competitions and prizes, sourced over 1200 proposals, and funded more than 90 promising solutions  to support language and literacy. ACR GCD’s commitment to open-source, Creative Commons Attribution licensed (CC-BY) solutions and resources has also strengthened the education sector by providing these cost-effective resources for free to users worldwide. 

ACR GCD has also contributed to research at the intersection of literacy and technology, demonstrating that EdTech, when appropriately applied, enables access to learning for marginalized populations and significantly reduces the cost of providing high-quality reading content, resulting in improved reading outcomes. ACR GCD has shared data, learnings and recommendations based on the findings from its projects including summative reports, technical and impact evaluations, guidebooks and technical briefs.

Over the past 12 years, ACR GCD supported and funded multiple approaches and solutions to reduce barriers to literacy in six key areas.

1. Driving the development and use of accessible reading materials in underserved languages

Two cell phones, one with the literacy app Feed the Monster and the other with the Global Digital Library

Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library were preloaded onto $40 smartphone and distributed to 3000 children in Northern Nigeria during a recent World Bank intervention that provides compelling evidence that low-cost, light interventions can improve reading outcomes in as little as five days.

ACR GCD pioneered affordable and innovative solutions to enhance the creation, production, distribution, and utilization of high-quality, early grade reading materials, including books, learning apps, and games in underserved languages, including sign languages.

To achieve this goal, ACR GCD funded prizes and challenges resulting in thousands of leveled, accessible books for children pre-primary to Grade 2 in languages they use and understand, including digital and sign language storybooks. Recently, ACR GCD funded collections of accessible, free storybooks in various local and/or signed languages, including Laos, Nepal, Philippines, Somalia, Fiji Islands, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, and the Soninke and Senoufo spoken languages of Mali, as well as Sign Language for Malian schools.

ACR GCD also supported various online libraries and platforms, such as the Bloom Library, Bookshare, Global Digital Library, World Around You, and Let’s Read, that offer an extensive collection of digital books and high-quality learning resources in hundreds of languages, including sign languages.

Moreover, ACR GCD funded several free and open-source tools that assist authors and educators in creating, translating, and publishing accessible books in languages that children can understand. These tools include Bloom software, the Accessible EPUB Toolkit, and World Around You open-source software, which allow users to create and share digital books and literacy content in local and national spoken and signed languages.

To learn more about the impact of these tools, read about the sign language books being created in Asia, Pacific, and Somalia, and the storybooks being created in Nepal by local authors and educators empowered by ACR GCD’s tools.

ACR GCD innovators have also yielded award-winning learning apps and games such as Signs and Smiles, Feed the Monster and Antura and the Letters. See below for more information on these innovations.

2. Strengthening foundations for literacy to improve childhood learning 

Recognizing the powerful role of pre-literacy as a foundation of a child’s future success, ACR GCD sourced and tested innovative approaches that improve early childhood literacy and development, involving actors such as parents, caregivers, teachers, educators, community members, and policymakers. The goal is to empower families, communities, and societies to strengthen early childhood education programs and resources.

To that end, ACR GCD is currently funding three projects through the Ready2Read Challenge to develop and implement EdTech solutions to support foundational language and literacy skills in children ages 3 to 6. 

The Asia Foundation’s Ready2Read and Play project, in partnership with Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), is training community mobilizers as early childhood education facilitators using the Let’s Read program. The project aims to prepare children for school and develop their social, emotional, and executive functions. ILC Africa, in collaboration with Amplio Network and the Association of Early Childhood Development in Malawi (AECDM), introduced Amplio Talking Book into 50 early childhood education centers in Malawi to develop pre-literacy skills in children ages 3 to 5. The Talking Books are being integrated into the daily lives of students and families, building the capacities of teachers and community members while changing attitudes towards the importance of early childhood education.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) launched Project TREE (Transforming Reading in Early Education) for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. The project includes Sign Language Rhythm and Rhyme, a visual language play method, and Shared Multilingual Reading Strategies for young deaf and hard-of-hearing children and their families. The project aims to promote visual and auditory languages as equal and remove marginalized expectations for deaf children, opening up opportunities for their future.

3. Enhancing literacy learning for children with disabilities

Behind the scenes of making a sign language storybook

Behind the scenes of creating a sign language storybook for children who are deaf and hard of hearing in Somalia

As a Grand Challenge, ACR GCD has driven the education sector to be more inclusive. The Grand Challenge established a focus on the use of EdTech to strengthen inclusive literacy education and made inclusive education a possibility for many children in low-resource contexts by introducing accessible assessments and resources into schools, homes and communities.

Over its lifetime, ACR GCD has become one of the largest innovation funds focused on reading for children with disabilities. The Grand Challenge has funded a range of solutions for children who are deaf/hard of hearing or blind/low vision, including high-quality accessible books, sign language books. accessible online libraries, free software tools to create accessible books, learning apps and adapted early grade reading assessments. 

ACR GCD funded and distributed the development of thousands of accessible books, including sign language storybooks, in the most underserved languages in the world. Innovators were also  required to ensure reading materials were created to meet the learning needs of all children, including children with disabilities.

In acknowledgement of “nothing about us without us,” for innovations and projects focusing on increasing literacy for children with disabilities, ACR GCD also required innovators to engage Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) in project design and as budgeted project subs to ensure their engagement throughout the project. To ease their participation, ACR GCD also allowed project proposals to be submitted in sign language.

ACR GCD also spurred the development of some of the first adapted assessments in braille and sign language in several underserved languages, promoted the use of adapted assessments, and funded adapted assessments.

Committed to scaling the sustainable production of high quality sign language storybooks, ACR GCD, in collaboration with Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is leading the development of Minimum Standards for Sign Language Storybook production in low-resource contexts. 

4. Sustaining education and literacy opportunities for children affected by conflict and crisis

A young girl holding a tablet

Photo Credit: Little Thinking Minds

ACR GCD funded multiple challenges focused on addressing the educational and psychosocial needs of children affected by conflict, natural disaster, or health crises by sourcing solutions for use in out-of-school contexts and contributing to research to improve the use of technology to provide education in emergencies. Technology was leveraged to serve as a connector or bridge to the formal school system for remote populations or children in emergency contexts, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and refugee and migration crises globally.

In 2016, ACR GCD, in collaboration with Norad and other organizations, conducted the EduApp4Syria prize that sourced open-source smartphone apps in English and Arabic to build foundational literacy skills and improve psychosocial well-being for Syrian refugee children. Evaluation results showed that children using the apps scored higher on oral reading fluency and that girls made significant gains in literacy skills. Two of these apps, Feed the Monster and Antura and the Letters, have scaled beyond their original development and are now available in up to 50+ languages.

ACR GCD-funded EdTech approaches and innovations have also increased access to learning and literacy for refugee children  in host county schools or refugee camps. For example, Little Thinking Minds and Integrated International implemented Qysas, an Arabic Leveled Digital Library for Every Classroom project in public schools in Jordan, resulting in significant gains in reading skills. To overcome challenges in delivering and supporting EdTech solutions in remote locations for children with disabilities, ACR GCD awardee eKitabu collaborated with other organizations to train caregivers and teachers in two refugee camps in Kenya.

ACR GCD innovators also created digital books that incorporated socio-emotional learning themes to support and nurture children in emergency contexts. Asafeer Education Technologies, Inc. developed 100 audible, leveled and accessible storybooks, that presented engaging STEM topics along with socio-emotional learning and featured a diversity of protagonists, including children with disabilities and girls. 

ACR GCD awardees and collaborators have used technology to increase literacy outcomes and support children in remote and low-resource contexts with free and open source books and gaming apps, digital libraries, and innovative approaches, including in schools where refugee children attend. A recent World Bank study supports the effectiveness of this approach, with devices preloaded with Feed the Monster and Global Digital Library improving reading outcomes for children in as little as five days in Northern Nigeria.

5. Mobilizing families and communities to support children as they learn to read

Family and community engagement is a key factor contributing to children’s educational achievement. Recognizing the importance of families and communities in children’s reading, ACR GCD sourced and tested innovative approaches to engage them in children’s literacy.

As such, several  ACR GCD projects focused on family and community engagement in four countries. Each project had a different implementation model targeting various skills on the reading spectrum. Evaluations of these projects revealed several key lessons that can help the education sector engage families and communities more effectively. These include capturing output data on short-term variables, such as family attendance at training or workshops or the number of face-to-face support visits conducted by staff with families, as well as measuring community engagement, considering parents’ and caretakers’ time and energy limitations, involving schools in interventions, and delivering reading content through technology.

ACR GCD expects to learn additional insights into engaging families and communities as current projects wrap up in the coming months. Through the UnrestrICTed Challenge, ACR GCD innovators are scaling Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for children with disabilities at home and at school by supporting communities in learning grounded in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), such as launching UDL training workshops for local teachers in Rwanda.  In Nepal, 428 teachers have been trained across 200 schools on how to incorporate EdTech and UDL in the classroom through Project LEARN. Additionally, based on this training, Nepal’s Department of Education is developing a 5-day teacher training module that will be mainstreamed into the government’s teacher training program. Our Ready2Read Challenge, focused on solutions to target key foundational language and literacy development in local languages, provided parents, caregivers, and facilitators with resources and tools to supplement early learning skills at home..

6. Leveraging data to support decision-making, analysis and accountability in global education 

ACR GCD recognizes the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of using technology to gather, analyze, and utilize education data, which can improve the quality, transparency, and accessibility of education. Several challenges focused on this area, resulting in useful approaches and solutions

In the area of inclusive education, ACR GCD innovators adapted reading assessments to make them more inclusive of children with disabilities and to be able to measure their reading outcomes more validly and reliably. For example, ACR GCD funded adaptations in sign languages such as Filipino,  Moroccan, and Rwandan Sign Languages for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing. It has also funded adaptations in Barathi, Kinyarwanda, Filipino and English braille and in large print for learners who are blind or have low vision and for children with learning disabilities.

Be part of the solution

Join USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government in celebrating their 12-year partnership that catalyzed a legacy of EdTech innovation and research. Use our Solutions Hub to find impactful solutions and tools that can be used or adapted to improve reading outcomes. Explore ACR GCD’s in-depth research on the impact of EdTech solutions in our Research Hub or access a wide range of guides, toolkits and more in our Guides & Toolkits Hub. Learn ways you can strengthen your education program through the use of EdTech by exploring our Children with Disabilities, Education in Emergencies and other areas through the drop down Focus Areas menu above. Keep an eye on this space for upcoming announcements about events and opportunities to learn more about the solutions, research, and resources that increase literacy for children in low-resource contexts.

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government