All Children Reading Spreads Literacy Through Smartphone Apps


BEIRUT — All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development utilizes new technology to increase literacy. The initiative estimates that 250 million children around the world are not learning basic literacy skills.

All Children Reading is a public-private partnership developed by World Vision, USAID and the Australian government. The initiative partners with organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Intel and Arizona State University to promote literacy through technology. All Children Reading manages 44 individual projects running in different developing countries around the world.

All Children Reading is one of USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development initiatives. The challenges embrace the application of science and technology to transform international development. USAID also believes that engaging the public in anti-poverty efforts is crucial when seeking innovative solutions to ongoing social issues.

The program sponsors a series of grants and prize competitions to source creative technological solutions for regions with low literacy rates. Round one of the All Children Reading initiative provided 32 grants to innovators combating child illiteracy in 22 countries. Round two focused on three target areas: providing reading materials and instruction in the mother tongue of early learners, family and community engagement in regions with low levels of literacy and improving literacy rates for children with disabilities. Round two finishes in 2017 and has already funded 12 innovators, with additional winners to be announced.

All Children Learning aims to eliminate educational barriers by identifying and meeting the specific needs of early developers in different countries. Low-resource countries often have limited access to reading material. In Zambia, the initiative encourages elder community members to write stories and an app provides them to local children.

In countries with many different dialects, All Children Learning mobilizes technology to help children work around language barriers. Early developers often have trouble accessing information presented in class if instructors speak a different dialect. All Children Learning works to foster foundational literacy in these students’ mother tongue. Learning basic language skills in their native tongue eases the transition to a new dialect for these struggling students.

All Children Reading has recently launched an initiative to improve the Arabic literacy skills and psychosocial well-being of displaced Syrian children unable to attend conventional schools. In Lebanon, half the refugee children from Syria are out of school.

The project, titled EduApp4Syria, created educational gaming apps available for free download on smartphones. The apps were funded by the Norwegian government and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) in conjunction with All Children Reading, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, mobile operator Orange and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies. Five finalists, narrowed down from 78 original contestants, received funding to develop prototypes of their games. Ultimately, two competing companies each won $650,000.

The Apps Factory in Romania developed one of the winning games called Feed the Monster. Feed the Monster requires children to care for a virtual pet monster by feeding it Arabic letters and words. The other winning game, Antura and the Letters, was created by the Cologne Game Lab in Germany. In Antura and the Letters, children aid an old shepherd who watches over a flock of Arabic words.

Creative solutions to illiteracy are especially important in developing countries where children face unique barriers to education like civil unrest and resource deficit. Educational tools developed through programs like EduApp4Syria can help lower illiteracy rates by engaging children outside of conventional classrooms. All Children Reading estimates that if all students in low-income countries gain basic literacy skills, 171 million people worldwide could be lifted out of poverty.

Katherine Parks
Photo: Flickr


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