September 2, 2022
In June 2022, the UN released a report indicating that, due to the devastating impacts of armed conflicts, COVID-19 and climate change, the number of crisis-impacted school-aged children requiring education support has grown from an estimated 75 million in 2016 to 222 million today. As many as 78.2 million are out of school and close to 120 million who are in attendance are not achieving minimum proficiency in math or reading. In fact, just one in 10 crisis-impacted children attending primary or secondary education are actually meeting proficiency standards. In low- and middle-income countries, an estimated 70% of 10 year olds are unable to understand a simple text.
The world is facing an education crisis. To mark International Literacy Day 2022, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) joins UNESCO in a call to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all.
Without new, appropriate solutions, we risk leaving behind the world’s most vulnerable children. We believe education in the 21st century must leverage innovation and technology to help children learn to read, complete school and escape poverty. When implemented appropriately, EdTech can enrich and transform learning spaces, supplement traditional learning and positively impact learning outcomes of children in school as well as those lacking access to traditional learning environments.
When implemented appropriately, EdTech can enrich and transform learning spaces, supplement traditional learning and positively impact learning outcomes of children in school as well as those lacking access to traditional learning environments.
To transform our approach to education and learning spaces, ACR GCD believes we must shift perspectives on how we approach learning spaces. While not a replacement for traditional education, EdTech can enrich and serve as a powerful supplement to traditional learning environments and positively influence the learning of children who lack access to school. With devices as simple and inexpensive as a tablet or smartphone, children, parents and their teachers can access evidence-based literacy and learning applications and thousands of high-quality digital books in languages they use and understand–whether they are at home or in school, on the move or in refugee camps.
EdTech also must be guided by the core principles of inclusion and equity in order to bridge rather than increase the digital divide–like free and open source solutions, which inspires and promotes scaling and access. Or producing born-accessible books in accessible formats like audio, braille, large print and sign languages, which ensures children with disabilities have the same opportunities to participate in education and their communities.
So, what does leveraging innovation and technology to enrich and transform learning spaces look like in the real world?
For over a decade, ACR GCD has catalyzed innovation by assuming the risks of research and development to support and strengthen innovators who have implemented and scaled game-changing solutions and tools to help address gaps and barriers to child literacy in and outside of school and in crisis and emergency situations to increase reading outcomes for vulnerable children in low-resource contexts.
Below are three ways that ACR enriches and transforms literacy learning spaces with EdTech.
1. Producing high quality, accessible open source content, free tools to create and adapt that content, and platforms on which to access that content at no cost
One of the ways ACR GCD is transforming and enriching literacy learning spaces is by spurring and supporting the creation of thousands of high-quality, accessible digital books and learning materials by local authors and illustrators in languages children use and understand–filled with characters children can identify with and social and emotional learning concepts and themes–and the online platforms to host them.
One of the ways ACR GCD is transforming and enriching learning spaces is by spurring and supporting the creation of thousands of high-quality, accessible digital books and learning materials…
For example, ACR GCD awardee Asafeer Education Technologies created a collection of 100 STEM books during the No Lost Generation Summit Tech Prize. Developed in the context of providing literacy materials for out-of-school child refugees, Asafeer innovators launched the creation of the audible, grade-appropriate, accessible, free and adaptable storybooks in Arabic and English using engaging themes and characters. Grace in Space, about a girl with a disability who journeys to space, captured international attention last year when it was read aloud by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir and USAID Administrator Samantha Powers. In 2020, with the 100 Arabic stories available for free across several platforms, Asafeer scaled their model to reach more aspiring authors with training on creating quality children’s content in Arabic. Since the launch, Asafeer has engaged more than 34,000 new authors across the Middle East and created a pipeline of quality children’s books in Arabic.
ACR GCD has also supported and funded innovators to develop books and learning materials for children who deaf and hard of hearing or blind and low-vision–as well as the tools needed to create these materials. For example, the World Around You platform, the development of which was supported by ACR GCD, not only hosts a library of sign language storybooks but also offers open source software to create content in local and national sign languages. Bloom software, which was enhanced with ACR GCD funding, makes it easy to create children’s books and translate them into multiple languages, including sign language books. Through an ACR GCD award, eKitabu created and made available for free the Accessible EPUB Toolkit, which helps publishers and others create accessible EPUBs with image descriptions, accessible navigation, and optional sign language videos.
To help guide the production of sign language storybooks in low resource settings and ensure quality bilingual sign language storybooks, ACR GCD established the Sign Language Storybook Cohort (SLSC) to promote the collaboration, learning and adaptation (CLA) approach among Begin With Books Prize awardees and their local disabled persons organizational (DPOs) partners. This cohort is spurring co-learning between the awardees, strengthening their capacity to create high quality storybooks in local sign languages, and developing minimum and gold standards for sign language books for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
For more book creation software–all open source and free–visit our Solutions Hub. Learn more about how to create high-quality digital books and increase access in a two-part blog series.
2. Supporting innovative, low-cost approaches to increase access and literacy in low resource contexts
A challenge facing education is finding ways to increase access to these high quality books and literacy materials in low-resource contexts. ACR GCD innovators have adapted a number of innovative strategies to increase access and promote use of high quality digital learning materials in a variety of settings to enrich and transform literacy learning spaces in the classroom or at home.
ACR GCD innovators have adapted a number of innovative strategies to increase access and promote use of high quality digital learning materials in a variety of settings to enrich and transform learning spaces–be they in the classroom or at home.
In 2016, Little Thinking Minds and Integrated International initiated Qyas (Stories), an online leveled early grade Arabic literacy learning platform supported by after school literacy clubs for students in Jordan which enable them to read on average 125 books in one academic year, as compared to the regional statistic of one book per year. In 2018, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, they developed a new digital library grades kindergarten through 3, which also introduced concepts of social cohesion to support integration of refugees in double-shift schools, where Jordanians and Syrians both go to school. Tablets were allocated to 100 double-shifting schools and rotated from classroom to classroom, reaching 15,000 children.
In remote regions of Papua New Guinea, the ACR GCD-funded Yumi Read Together project is leveraging disabled people organizations outreach to support families using SIL LEAD’s Bloom Reader app to increase access to books in local spoken and signed languages by distributing the digital books on micro-SD cards so that teachers can share the resources through mini-smartphone projectors and parents can access them without using data or access to cell coverage.
In the Philippines, former ACR GCD awardee Benetech is creating spaces in regional libraries and schools where community members who are blind, low-vision or have print disabilities can learn about and access content from Bookshare, the world’s largest digital accessible library with digital content in accessible formats.
EdTech innovators are also expanding accessibility through online social media applications. For example, in an ACR GCD funded project in Nepal The Asia Foundation is using Facebook to increase access to early childhood education resources and training to increase oral language and prereading skills through a campaign featuring stories, activities and videos; the organization is also working with local disabled persons organizations to develop outreach strategies on their social media platforms to increase access to digital learning materials for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. In a USAID project in Guatemala, SIL LEAD supported the Ministry of Education in developing 600 books on Bloom reader and then used WhatsApp to push the books out to families during the pandemic, leading to an increase in learning and reading gains. Curious Learning, which adapted ACR GCD-funded smartphone literacy app Feed the Monster into more than 50 languages, has successfully used low-cost social media advertising to increase parent awareness of and access to the app during the Ukrainian crisis.
A recent World Bank intervention provides compelling evidence that low-cost EdTech can have a profound impact on reading outcomes. In Northern Nigeria, $40 smartphones preloaded with Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library–two EdTech solutions delivered with support and funding from ACR GCD–were distributed to 3000 children in Northern Nigeria. Reading outcomes for those children, as well as their siblings, improved in as little as five days, with learning outcomes continuing to improve one month out.
ACR GCD is continuing to spur innovative strategies to increase access to high-quality learning materials through two new challenges recently opened to current ACR GCD awardees and their local partners. The Digital Books in Action and the Sign Language Storybooks in Action prizes, which launched last month and will conclude in May 2023, are designed to spur the uptake of digital reading materials and EdTech by awarding innovators who develop successful distribution strategies to increase access for children in low-resource contexts.
3. Transforming assessment tools and teaching strategies
If we are to ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all, the way we approach and assess children’s learning must be transformed as well.
If we are to ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all, the way we approach and assess children’s learning needs to be transformed as well.
ACR GCD funds innovators to develop solutions and training that incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework that contains guidelines for improving and optimizing teaching and learning that meet students’ diverse needs so that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities. For example, through ACR GCD’s UnrestICTed challenge, innovators are scaling EdTech solutions grounded in UDL to ensure children with disabilities benefit from language, literacy and learning support. In Nepal, ACR GCD-funded Project Learn is developing a framework for integrating accessible EdTech and UDL principles into government guidelines and training instruction, and expanding teacher professional development related to inclusive education. In Rwanda, eKitabu collaborated with Humanity and Inclusion to train 116 teachers in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps on UDL teaching and learning.
ACR GCD in collaboration with School-to-School International was among the first to globally implement adapted Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRAs) for children with disabilities, which provide appropriate accommodations for learners with disabilities so they can access the assessment content equitably. Accommodations include providing large print or Braille stimuli, allowing extending time for certain subtasks, and providing enumeration in local sign language. ACR GCD’s Reading Beyond Sight project provided teaching training and mentoring, parent engagement and advocacy workshops as well as assistive technology, braille and large-print materials to students. In that project, students achieved statistically significant reading gains over peers in the comparison group on all subtasks of the adapted EGRAs. An ACR GCD-funded project implemented by the Institute for Disabilities Training and Research (IDTR) and Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Rabat in Morocco piloted the Early Grade Reading Sign Language assessment (EGRSLA) to assess the language and reading skills of students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Watch a webinar for lessons learned during that project.
Be part of the solution
For more than a decade, ACR GCD has transformed literacy learning spaces by implementing and scaling game-changing solutions and tools to help address gaps and barriers to child literacy. Be part of the solution for the more than 584 million children globally waiting for the opportunity to learn to read. Explore our solutions and tools to help you increase literacy opportunities in local languages for marginalized children in your work and programming or partner with us to pilot or scale a solution or innovation in your community or region.
Together, we can transform and enrich literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all.
All Children Reading is a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.