Advancing EdTech solutions to increase child literacy can help reduce poverty

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OCTOBER 15, 2021


The World Bank reports that 1.3 billion people are living in poverty–a number which is expected to rise in 2021 as a result of the pandemic. According to UNICEF, those numbers include about 1 billion children, with 356 million living in extreme poverty, leaving them lacking basic resources like sufficient food, shelter, health care and education that they need to not only survive but thrive. 

The ability to read plays a crucial role in a child’s opportunity to attend and complete his or her education, which is a proven driver in reducing poverty, especially for girls. According to UNESCO, 387 million children of primary school age are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading, and more than half of all children globally will not achieve proficiency levels in reading by the time they complete primary education–but if all students in low-income countries left school with elementary reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12% cut in world poverty.

“… if all students in low-income countries left school with elementary reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12% cut in world poverty.”

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A youth using a mobile phone on the grounds of the Katopola School just outside of Chipata, Zambia – one of the more than 1,100 schools taking part in the Read to Succeed project.

While reading is the foundational skill for a child to learn and succeed in school, access to adequate textbooks, storybooks and other learning materials remains a challenge.  All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GDC) believes education technology (EdTech) innovation and approaches can address gaps and barriers for children to have access to reading in school. When applied appropriately, EdTech can advance child literacy around the globe. While not a replacement for textbooks and reading materials in a classroom, EdTech serves as an effective supplement to traditional learning and positively influences the learning of children who lack access to school, like those living in countries with high levels of poverty, and allows reading to continue in and outside the school.

At particularly high risk are children with disabilities. More than 93 million children globally have a disability, and of those who reside in countries with high poverty levels, at least 90 percent do not attend school. Factors like a lack of suitable transportation and infrastructure, inadequate teacher training, or a dearth of quality learning resources prevent children with disabilities from attending or fully participating in school. EdTech, grounded in universal design for learning (UDL) principles, provides an opportunity to meet the needs of all learners, including those with disabilities, at home or at school.

“ACR GCD is advancing EdTech solutions and research to improve reading outcomes for marginalized children in low-resource contexts, including children with disabilities.”

ACR GCD is advancing EdTech solutions and research to improve reading outcomes for marginalized children in low-resource contexts, including children with disabilities. Our mission is rooted in sourcing new solutions, testing new ideas and scaling what works. Through a series of challenges and prizes, ACR GCD invests in the most promising edTech innovations and approaches to address gaps and barriers to child literacy, partners with leading education researchers to measure the impact of those innovations, and advances innovations with the greatest potential to improve reading outcomes for children in low-resource contexts.

The first two rounds of challenges and prizes birthed and advanced solutions like technology that opens literacy opportunities for Moroccan children who are deaf/hard of hearing, game-changing mobile technology that reaches teachers in remote areas with literacy instruction tips and training, ground-breaking Early Grade Reading Assessment for children with sensory disabilities, technology that strengthens education to refugee childrendownloadable mobile games to help out-of-school Syrian children gain literacy skills, innovation to expand access to Nicaraguan Sign Language, and much more. 

In 2019, ACR GCD launched a third round of challenges, which aims at supporting and transitioning mature, evidence-based solutions to scale with the goal of reaching more children with more sustainable local solutions:

  • In March 2020, ACR GCD awarded four innovators–eKitabuRochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID)SIL LEAD and The Asia Foundation–with the Begin with Books prize, which aims at increasing access to quality books in languages that children in the some of the lowest resource regions of the world use and understand, including sign language. Collectively, the prize winners are creating thousands of books in seven underserved languages and nine sign languages, serving regions of the world where children have little or no books for kindergarten or preschool.
  • In March, ACR GCD announced three winners of its UnrestrICTed Challenge, a global competition to scale Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for education solutions that ensure children with disabilities benefit from language, literacy and learning support grounded in UDL at home at school. The three winners—eKitabuSave the Children, and World Education, Inc.—will be collaborating with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPO) in Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, and Nepal, respectively, to scale and test ICT for education solutions, including accessible books, literacy learning apps, and teacher training resources, to improve literacy and learning for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, are blind or have low vision, or have intellectual or developmental disabilities. 
  • Last month, ACR GCD also announced three winners in the Ready2Read Challenge, who will focus on solutions for pre-primary education. More than 175 million children globally do not have access to pre-primary education, and for children who are deaf, the challenge is exacerbated by a  lack of deaf language materials, play activities and reading opportunities within a deaf child’s family that cannot sign. The three awardees–The Asia FoundationILC Africa and Rochester INstitute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf–are working on solutions grounded in UDL that support parents, teachers, and facilitators with resources and tools to narrow the gap in early childhood learning, including those exacerbated by the pandemic.

As learning outcomes demonstrated by these investments continue to contribute to the body of evidence that supports the impact of EdTech solutions, ACR GCD is committed to catalyzing collaboration, sharing the knowledge and evidence gained, and encouraging the implementation and scale-up of EdTech solutions for marginalized children in low-resource contexts around the world.

Learn how you can be part of the solutions for 387 million children globally waiting for the opportunity to learn and read.


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