EWING, New Jersey — Currently 793 million adults worldwide, or roughly one out of four people, are unable to read. It is a statistic that USAID is fighting to change. With multiple projects worldwide committed to promoting literacy, including a global competition and several projects in both Tajikistan and Rwanda, USAID wants to increase literacy and has made clear their commitment to promoting this worldwide.
One of the best methods for reducing poverty, research has found that countries that have increased their in literacy rates by 20-30 percent have had simultaneous increases in their GDP by 8-16 percent. Furthermore UNESCO has reported that globally one year of schooling increases earnings by 10 percent on average. And, that if all women completed primary education there would be 66 percent fewer maternal deaths, not to mention the massive economic benefit to nations which allow women’s education. Clearly, then education can lead to both economic and health benefits for the entire nation.
Despite these benefits however, 250 million children worldwide are not learning basic literacy and mathematical skills and 57 million primary school age children are out of school.
One program at the forefront of USAID drive to change this is the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development. A global competition this “leverages science and teaching to create and apply scalable solutions to improve literacy skills in developing countries.”
This program was launched by USAID in conjunction with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to combating poverty worldwide, and the Australian government. It aims to help develop cost effect methods to help improve literacy rates for children at early ages.
The program is made up of two “rounds.” The first focuses on creating ideas for increasing both learning materials for children and the accessibility of education.
The second seeks for ways to improve reading skills, with emphasis on fostering literacy in local languages, and increasing communities and family engagement in a child’s educational development.
As a prize in this competition ACR GCD has a $100,00 Enabling Writers’ prize to “spur development of software solutions that allow authors to easily create and export texts in mother tongue languages to help early grade students read.”
To date, this global competition has received responses from over 400 applicants, and given out 32 project awards to universities and other organizations in 22 countries.
Along with this global competition USAID is also sponsoring several programs in Tajikistan and Rwanda.
Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in Asia, is defined as a low-income nation by the World Bank, and has a population estimated at 8.2 million. In 2009 the nation had a poverty rate of 47.2 percent.
Tajikistan education system, since the fall of the USSR in 1991, has been on a decline and the civil war fought there in 1992-1997 failed to help this matter.
Fifty percent of Tajikistan’s population is under 23, the in 2015 there will be a projected increase of school children by 40 percent. With low school budgets and mostly outdated materials it is an increase that Tajikistan’s schools are unready for. Sixty percent of schools in this nation already stay open for several shifts a day inn an effort to try to educate the high volume of youths already inhabiting this nation.
Another difficulty for this nation, is the fact that most books and reading materials available in Tajikistan are in Russian and not Tajik, the dominant language. This is an after effect of the Soviet Union’s long dominion over the area.
In an effort to promote literacy and educational development in Tajikistan in 2012 USAID established the Reading for Children project. This project works to promote pre-primacy literacy and was done in partnership with the Aga khan Foundation, a development network which works to “improve the welfare and prospects of people in the developing world, particularly in Asia and Africa, without regard to faith, origin or gender.”
Aimed at children between 3-7 years old, and it hopes to encourage family reading, as well as expanding access to age-relevant materials. It also works to increase awareness of reading and literacy importance to families, communities and government officials in Tajikistan.
Through this project USAID has trained local authors and illustrators to create children’s novels, in an attempt to address the lack of Tajik-language children’s books available.
So far USAID has published 25 books such as these and has helped open 246 mini-libraries in village schools and private homes, which though private will allow community access, open across the nation. Along with this increase in libraries has also been an increase in librarians, with dozens being trained.
According to USAID report on the project, “taken together, these librarians, parents and caregivers will reach more than 25,000 children across 246 villages in Tajikistan.”
In Rwanda meanwhile, USAID is also in action promoting literacy with another innovative program.
Rwanda a low income nation hoping to be a middle income one by 2020, has a clear need to emphasize literacy in its drive to do so. Through the All Children Reading competition, USAID has given a grant to a Rwandan publishing company, Drakkar Ltd., to reproduce stories by African authors into Kinyarwanda, an official language of Rwanda. To date six stories have been translated and subsequently distributed to 240 schools, reaching roughly 221,000 students.
USAID is also sponsoring two further literacy programs in Rwanda. One project is the Literacy, Language and Learning Initiative which while financed by USIAD is implemented by the Education Development Center. This project mainly attempts to increase the amount of instructional materials provided to teachers to help aid learning in classrooms. It also utilizes the growth of cell phones in Rwanda by enabling teachers to play audio recordings of books through their phones.
The other project in Rwanda results form a collaboration between USAID and Rwanda’s Ministry of Education. Together they are putting on a national competition for children’s stories called Andika Rwanda, or Rwanda Writes, in which all Rwandans from first grade up are encouraged to submit stories to. The winners will have their stories published and illustrated, as well as receiving writing materials such as a laptop or tablet. It is hoped that this program will help foster enthusiasm for reading and writing across Rwanda.
With their multiple projects based throughout the world, USAID has clearly shown commitment to reducing global poverty though promoting global education. It is estimated that if all students in low income nations left schools with basic reading skills 171 million could be lifted out of poverty. This is equivalent to a 12 percent reduction in global poverty. And it is a reduction that USAID hopes to one day achieve.
– Albert Cavallaro