October 10, 2019
All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) celebrated past achievements, announced its vision for another round of programming focused on improving literacy for children in low-resource contexts, and revealed a new competition at its EdTech Open in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 7, 2019.
The event brought together leaders from the Grand Challenge’s founding partners—the U.S. Agency for International Development, World Vision, and the Australian Government—as well as innovators, collaborators, Ministries of Education, and others committed to addressing the global challenge of the estimated 387 million children who are unable to read by the end of primary school.
“All Children Reading, even though it was established years ago, remains as relevant as ever and keeps delivering on its promise,” said Julie Cram, deputy assistant administrator of the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment at USAID. “We know that fundamentally the private sector, innovation and partnership are going to deliver on our promise to our partners on their journey to self–reliance.”
“The geographic reach, resources, networks that each partner brings to the table makes this a mutually beneficial partnership and a force multiplier,” added Bill Costello, minister counsellor of international development at the Embassy of Australia.
The program progressed through various “chapters” of the ACR GCD story, beginning with reflections on the launch of the initiative in 2011 and moving to honor the achievements of more than 80 innovators. Those innovators include Benetech, which created audio-narrated accessible books for children with print disabilities in India, as well as SIL LEAD for their prize-winning accessible book writing software Bloom, and eKitabu for their prize-winning EPUB creation toolkit and Kenyan Sign Language studio.
“Grand Challenges like All Children Reading are so critical for infusing creativity, strategic partnerships and innovation into this work, strengthening it and ensuring continuous improvement and greater impact for vulnerable children,” said Margaret Schuler, senior vice president of international programs at World Vision. “Like all successful projects, the past eight years of the All Children Reading Grand Challenge have been a learning process that has involved encountering challenges, pivoting based on lessons learned, and building based on successes.”
Those successes include reaching more than 600,000 early grade learners in 24 countries, distributing more than 1 million local language reading materials in more than 140 languages, including sign languages, and literacy assessments of nearly 9,000 students, Schuler said.
“As a father of two children with special needs, my heart is especially warmed by the groundbreaking work All Children Reading has pursued for children with disabilities—ensuring that all children, including those with print disabilities or children who are deaf, have the resources they need to learn and thrive,” said Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, in a video message.
ACR GCD also announced a new round of programming focused primarily on advancing proven solutions for children in priority countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and areas affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. This will be accomplished through competitions, acceleration and scaling support, research, evaluation and collaboration, centered around the focal areas of improving the development, access and use of books in underserved languages, enhancing literacy learning for children with disabilities, and strengthening literacy foundations to improve early childhood learning.
A major focus in achieving ACR GCD’s strategic vision will be sourcing content for the Global Digital Library (GDL), a free web-based platform seeded and supported by ACR GCD and developed by the Norwegian Government that provides high-quality books and learning resources in more than 30 languages and growing. Christer Gunderson, chief technology officer for the GDL, and Nitin Kashyap, product manager of the Bolo app at Google, stressed the need for more quality content in more languages to expand literacy around the globe.
“We plan to work more with the GDL to get more content on the app and look forward to partnering with you all as well so we can have all children reading,” Kashyap said.
A major effort in providing content for the GDL is the Begin With Books prize, an initiative of ACR GCD and the Global Book Alliance (GBA) that challenges global innovators to assemble cost-effective packages of high quality, accessible titles in more than 30 underserved spoken and signed languages. Launched at the EdTech Open, the prize will offer winning solvers up to $300,000 for proposals outlining the most cost-effective approaches to creating packages of quality, early grade books in one or more of 30+ underserved languages in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East. The deadline to apply for the prize is Nov. 15, 2019.
“We need innovation. We need the unique and creative solutions that come from innovators around the world,” said Charles North, deputy chief executive officer of the Global Partnership for Education, who announced the prize on behalf of the GBA, along with Kerin Ord, global sector education lead for World Vision International.
“Our goal with Begin With Books is to create thousands of books in local, spoken and signed languages in countries across the world where children need them most,” Ord added. “With these digital books free and accessible on the Global Digital Library, organizations like World Vision and others will be able to use them in literacy programming.”
Necar Zadegan, actor, producer and star of NCIS: New Orleans closed the event with remarks about how giving children an opportunity to learn to read in their own language gives them a seat at the table and empowers them to share their own stories. “When you’re at a table that feels familiar, you care for that table, you want to protect that table,” Zadegan said. “It’s easy to see the bridges these innovations are creating … and I’ve witnessed firsthand what a difference these literacy programs make in a child’s life.”