Fund education to achieve accessible literacy for all
by Katherine Stephans, Library For All
Can you remember your first day of kindergarten? Or even preschool? Chances are, you were excited beyond words.
Chances are, your first classroom greeted you with colorful drawings on the walls, 26 letters on the chalkboard, and even a cozy reading corner filled with stacks of books, waiting patiently to take you on an adventure.
For your parents – and all parents – this day marked the start of your journey towards an education. For your parents – and all parents – school is a universal symbol for opportunity. School is meant to provide children the tools to learn, dream, and grow into educated individuals, capable of making their own contributions to society.
In developing countries, parents feel this sense of excitement on their child’s first day of school. Yet today, with primary school enrollment at 91%, it’s astounding that there are 250 million children in developing countries still not learning to read and write – even though over half of them have spent at least four years in school.
Picture your life at age 9. Now picture your life at age 9, not fully literate, even though you’ve showed up to school for the last four years.
Today, we’re a fighting a battle against illiteracy. Parents are sending their children to school for an education, only to be let down. This is a crisis worthy of the attention of decision-makers and funders everywhere concerned about the future of our children, who are falling through the cracks of educational systems throughout the developing world.
Education is the fundamental building block in breaking the curse of intergenerational poverty. After acute health needs, it is likely to be the highest priority budget item for low-income families. Too often, the quality of education provided in return for these precious resources is woefully inadequate.
Why aren’t children in school learning? A big factor is lack of access to quality learning materials: books that are appropriate for a child’s local culture and language. There are incredible organizations who are working to fill this void by shipping physical textbooks to developing countries. But the truth is, this method is expensive, inefficient, and cannot tackle the scope of the problem quickly.
Books are scarce, but devices are widespread: There are at least 6 billion mobile phone users in the world, and 5 billion of them live in developing countries. There are 3G/4G networks that can be found in even the most remote areas of developing countries. Low-cost mobile phones, tablets, and PCs are widespread, and now, even being produced by local manufacturers.
Technology, the way forward: A year ago, I joined the team at Library For All because I believe their mission is simple yet effective. Library For All is a tech nonprofit based in New York City that exists to deliver quality educational materials to those who are or can be connected to a device. Library For All has built a cloud-based, customizable digital library – globally scalable yet tailored to local communities – to deliver quality learning materials to students and educators on their mobile devices.
Our team works with international and local publishers and country advisors to build a digital library for virtually any country. We deliver our digital library to children via NGOs, governments, and individual schools with existing educational programs. Today, Library For All has readers in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Mongolia, and through partnership, will reach 5 million readers by December 2017.
So, why fund solutions for global illiteracy?
For the girl living in Rwanda, who takes a bus for several hours into the city just to copy her friend’s textbook. What if that textbook was available on the device in her pocket?
For the adolescent boy living in Haiti, a former child slave, who has never read books at home. How will he quickly become literate without a library of resources at his new school?
For the students living in Cambodia, who have to bike nearly two hours just to show up to school each day. What books are offered at their school to ensure they have an enthusiasm for reading, pushing them to attend secondary school and beyond?
For all students living in developing countries: if all students had access to resources needed to acquire basic skills by the time they finished primary school, 171 million people worldwide could be lifted out of poverty.
The time to act is now – and funding is key to making quality educational materials accessible for all.
Katherine Stephans is Partnerships and Communications Manager at Library For All. Library For All is a nonprofit organization that has built a digital library for children with limited access to books in developing countries.