blog sunbooks

Shifting perspectives on using communication devices as learning tools can increase access to education and support learning in low resource contexts

Using devices like smartphones as learning tools can be a low-cost, high impact method of increasing access to education, especially for hard-to-reach learners

Around the world, crises are increasing the number of children who are losing access to education. Conflict in Ukraine, militias in eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, gang violence in Central America, and the growing food crisis in the eastern Africa are adding to already staggering numbers of children who are displaced and falling behind in education. By the end of 2021, children and families displaced by war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses stood at 89.3 million, up eight per cent from a year earlier and well over double the figure of 10 years ago, according to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report.

Providing quality education in low resource countries is difficult enough without the added challenges associated with crises, especially for migrants and refugee children who lose access to  traditional school environments. In addition, crises are not monolithic; contexts are different in each one, adding to the challenges of finding ways to keep children accessing education and learning as they travel from country to country. What works in one situation may not work in another.

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) believes education technology can continue children’s learning when access to traditional education environments is limited. With devices as simple as a mobile 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, on the move, in refugee camps, migrant settlements, reading clubs, or host-country schools and libraries.

With devices as simple as a mobile 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….

Shifting perspectives

Smartphone with a screen shot of Feed the Monster, an app to help increase foundational literacyInnovators like Curious Learning are shifting perspectives on using devices like smartphones from communication tools to learning tools, especially for hard to reach learners. The organization localizes, distributes and measures use of digital learning software, including Feed the Monster–a literacy app created through the ACR GCD EduApp4Syria competition in 2016–which is now available in more than 50 languages with 600,000+ users globally. Most recently, the organization created a Ukrainian version of the app, which reached over 100,000 downloads within two months.

“The traditional model views schools as the single entry point to children’s learning,” says Creesen Naicker, Curious Learning’s Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, “but we take a ‘fit for purpose’ approach.”

EdTech enables literacy content to be easily adapted to different situations, explains Naicker. Giving children access to learning through apps like Feed the Monster can fill gaps in support of traditional education–or the absence of it–and high-quality content featured in Feed the Monster, digital libraries and other learning applications don’t need to be delivered by a trained facilitator and can be used alone, in groups or in school, Naicker points out.

But EdTech faces challenges in getting into the hands of children. Naicker says there’s a need to shift paradigms in the education sector. “There are several limiting beliefs that hold individuals and institutions back from pursuing innovative and potentially game changing solutions using new mediums like smartphones,” he says.

Naicker and other innovators often find themselves mythbusting misconceptions about EdTech, like it’s too expensive, it isolates children, children don’t have access to devices, or that it has little educational value or just doesn’t work–the last being a misconception too often encountered by Rama Kayyali of Little Thinking Minds and Nedjma Koval of INTEGRATEDACR GCD grant awardees in 2014.

“There are so many naysayers out there, which is shocking in the post-COVID environment,” reflects Koval, who says the issue is compounded by the wide range of EdTech available, some of which does not work, and the need to help people distinguish between those and evidence-based and tested EdTech that is extremely effective in improving reading and learning.

Below are several key concepts and examples around when and how EdTech can provide access to education and support continued learning for children in low-resource contexts, including crisis and conflict situations.

Edtech is a game changer when appropriately applied 

Over the past 10 years, ACR GCD has compiled a range of research and resources showing that EdTech with high-quality content, when applied appropriately, enables access to learning for marginalized populations, significantly lowers the cost of providing reading content and exponentially improves reading outcomes. Our technology-based literacy projects have not only effectively disseminated new or existing learning materials to underserved populations in languages they use and understand but also enabled equitable access to teaching and learning materials for children with disabilities.

In particular, EdTech with high-quality content can be a game changer in contexts where it provides access to education and learning materials for a child who previously did not have access, where it significantly lowers the cost of providing access as compared to the status quo, and where it can significantly increase relevant learning outcomes as compared to current programs.

Increasing inclusive access

When applied appropriately, EdTech can be an equalizer for access to literacy, particularly for girls and children with disabilities.

For example, digital literacy games and apps can increase reading outcomes in out of school settings for girls, particularly those who are denied other educational opportunities. When evaluating the impact of two of the literacy apps created through the EduApp4Syria Prize, Feed the Monster and Antura and the Lettersdata on both apps show girls making gains, particularly in oral reading fluency, which is a strong predictor of reading comprehension. A recent World Bank study that distributed $40 cell phones preloaded with Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library to 3,000 children in Northern Nigeria indicates that literacy apps in homes have a spillover effect, increasing literacy skills in siblings (including sisters) at a just slightly lower percentage than the main child using the app.

Screenshot of the World Around You platformProducing high-quality digital books with accessible formats and features–like text highlighting, audio, eBraille, large print and sign language–ensures children with disabilities have the same opportunities to participate in education. The World Around You platform, created with funding awarded through the ACR GCD Sign on For Literacy Prize, includes an online library of digital sign language storybooks as well as open source software that enables communities to create literacy content in local and national sign languages. These storybooks are easily accessed on smartphones, tablets and computers in homes, classrooms and other settings, and can be downloaded as ePubs and used offline. In Malawi, ACR GCD innovator eKitabu is creating 220 eBraille storybooks, which can be uploaded on Orbit readers (a refreshable braille display and stand-alone reader device). With funding from ACR GCD, Benetech’s human narrated stories on Bookshare provide students who are blind and low vision with accessible educational content to listen to on low-cost audio devices while simultaneously reading braille. (Learn more about reading materials for children who are blind and low vision.)

EdTech grounded in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles is particularly effective in advancing inclusive learning with accessible digital content. UDL is a theoretical framework that focuses on assisting teachers in planning to meet students’ diverse needs and developing flexible learning environments and learning spaces that can accommodate individual learning differences. Last year, ACR GCD awardee eKitabu trained teachers in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps how to apply the three UDL principles through the use of hands-on examples using the android tablets provided by Humanity and Inclusion and loaded with accessible digital content.

Improving psychosocial outcomes and social connections

EdTech can also impact a child’s emotional and psychological well-being as well as build connections in communities.

Feed the Monster and Antura and the Letters were designed to not only build foundational literacy but also improve the psychosocial well-being for Syrian refugee children. Parents of children using the apps reported that their children were not only improving their reading skills by using the app but were happy afterwards.

In 2018, Little Thinking Minds implemented the Live in Harmony multimedia project in 100 public schools in Jordan as part of the Ministry of Education’s work to provide an innovative approach to educational needs of children, with a focus on instilling social values and improving social cohesion through multimedia learning. The project not only resulted in an increase in literacy performance and awareness of social cohesion vocabulary, but also an increase in social and collaborative behavior among Syrians and Jordanians children attending double-shifted schools.

According to the World Bank, EdTech can also create new connections between teachers, students, parents and broader communities to reform and reimagine the way education is delivered.

Taking advantage of growing mobile phone ownership and use

Estimates of how much of the world’s population own smart or mobile phones ranges from 50% to more than 80%, and the number is growing. Smartphones and the ability to access social media platforms through them are now an essential part of a refugee’s toolkit. In 2016, UNHCR reported that 71% of the world’s refugee households at that time owned a mobile phone, and 93% of all refugees lived in areas covered by either 2G or 3G networks, representing a potential way to communicate with and provide resources to these populations.

And, according to Curious Learning’s data, children are using their parents’ phones. “Either millions of adults are playing our early learning apps, or their children are,” says Naicker.

Making a low-cost, big impact

A cell phone with a screenshot of the online digital platform, Global Digital LibraryA substantial amount of evidence-based, effective EdTech reading and learning material is available for free use, adaptation and distribution. For example, online libraries like the Global Digital LibraryBloomLet’s Read Asia and others house thousands of free high-quality, accessible digital reading and learning materials that are available online and offline, downloadable, adaptable and able to be translated online as well, making reading material easily–and cheaply– accessible in languages children use and understand.

Social media has proven to be a powerful tool in promoting high-quality digital apps and games. “We’ve been able to put apps in the hands of children at very low costs,” says Naicker. In Nepal, Curious Learning spent $10,000 on Facebook promotion and reached 135,000 children. During their promotional push to Ukrainian refugees, Naicker reports that the average advertising cost per download was 15 cents.

Innovators, humanitarian organizations and others serving populations where smartphones and digital devices are scarce might consider whether programs that distribute devices preloaded with literacy and learning apps may be effective. The World Bank study that distributed inexpensive cell phones preloaded with Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library to children in Northern Nigeria provides compelling evidence that high-quality EdTech can improve reading outcomes in as little as five days, with learning outcomes continuing to improve one month out–leading researchers to recommend similar EdTech interventions to address literacy and education.

The World Bank study that distributed inexpensive cell phones preloaded with Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library to children in Northern Nigeria provides compelling evidence that high-quality EdTech can improve reading outcomes in as little as five days, with learning outcomes continuing to improve one month out–leading researchers to recommend similar EdTech interventions to address literacy and education.

Thinking beyond 1:1 child/device ratio to increase access and impact–and address the digital divide 

To increase impact and usage of digital books and content–and address the digital divide, educators and innovators should also consider thinking beyond the one-to-one child-to-device paradigm.

For example, using digital, open source and accessible teaching and learning materials on smartphones connected to PICO projectors can turn any environment into a learning environment, complementing printed books, when they are available, and extending access to  reading materials especially for children who use underserved languages and children with disabilities.

In contexts with no functioning community or school libraries, an e-library with collections of as few as 5 tablets that can be lent out to or used by children in community centers, reading camps and child friendly spaces. This type of lending library is attractive to children, provides personalized learning and ICT skills acquisition.

Both of the above strategies not only increase impact and usage but also address barriers to using digital learning materials and books.

Be part of the solution

Be part of the solution for the more than 584 million children globally waiting for the opportunity to learn to read.

Together, we can advance EdTech solutions to improve reading outcomes for marginalized children across the world.


Author: All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge For Development

 

Reading Day with UP, Sun Books and WLF

Reading Day to Encourage Children to Read More

The Reading Day event that took place at Confidence College in the Pretoria CBD on Friday, 15 October, was aimed at inspiring learners to read and add meaning to text in an interactive, fun, and creative way. This event was organized by our partner in South Africa, Dr. Mia le Roux (Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, University of Pretoria), the board member of the Gauteng branch of the Literacy Association of South Africa (Litasa) in collaboration with Mrs Anélize van Eeden (principal of Confidence College) and Dr. Renata Eccles (fourth-year Speech-Language Pathology practical module coordinator in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP). Dr. Le Roux and Dr. Bernice Badal (English Department, UNISA, and chair of the Gauteng branch of Litasa), attended the event at the school and took part in the activities.

Reading Day with UP, Sun Books and WLF

 

The students of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP, facilitated the activities with the grade RR to grade 7 classes. The events per class started with a song, a rhyme or a brief game focused on the story followed by the story being read. The learners then had the opportunity to do various fun educational activities relating to the different stories read.

Reading Day

The characters in the stories came alive amongst drawings, crowns, cowboy hats, hen- and goat masks, spiderwebs, and many more. In turn, the school came alive with splashes of color in different hues flashing by as busy feet, minds, ears, and hands moved to the rhythm and rhyme of the words making them come alive in a memorable way.

 The principal, Mrs. Van Eeden, said that “the atmosphere was loaded with excitement since the Monday prior to the actual event”. On Friday, she was wearing a story character dress with drawings made by herself and painted by the learners. The staff and learners dressed up in various costumes each relating to a specific story being read per class. Everybody involved felt that it was a highly successful event. Dr. Badal offered special thanks to the principal and staff “who showed us that growing up does not mean that we need to forget that learning is fun”. She continued to thank the students from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP, who prepared and executed all the activities with passion and dedication.  She concluded by thanking the sponsors of the event, the World Literacy Foundation (WLF), Sun Books, and Tobias, saying that the Gauteng branch of Litasa is grateful to all the key players that made this day possible and hope that many similar events will take place in future.

 

Dr. Le Roux mentioned that fostering lifelong literacy is often forgotten in the drive to improve the literacy skills of Foundation Phase learners. However, the need to be competent readers never stops; in fact, it becomesReading aloud at the classroom more important as learners enter higher grades and the need for reading and understanding complex academic text increases. This event by the Gauteng branch of Litasa is therefore seen as the first of many, especially as the principal of the school expressed the hope that the Reading Day will be repeated on a yearly basis.

The students involved stated that one must never forget that literacy forms the foundation of academic success. They mentioned that participating in the Reading Day at Confidence College was a privilege and working with the learners was extremely exciting and rewarding. The final year Speech-Language Pathology students also conducted hearing screening on 33 children with the support of a Master’s audiology student. There are plans to conduct hearing screening on more children from Confidence College next year. This community engagement project allowed the students from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP, to accumulate much needed practical hours. Dr. Eccles observed that the students had the opportunity to have fun within their professional training. She continued to say that the students “got a chance to remember the reason they do all this hard work and the difference they can make!”. 

Finally, Prof Jeannie van der Linde, head of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at UP concluded with the following statement: “As a department, we strive to improve the literacy of our children to ensure that they have the capacity to excel academically. Book reading from an early age is one of the best ways of improving literacy abilities in young children. Fostering a love for reading is, therefore, the name of the game.” 

 

Credits:

University of Pretoria

Dr. Mia le Roux (Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, University of Pretoria)

Dr. Renata Eccles (fourth-year Speech-Language Pathology practical module coordinator in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP)

africa online education 2

Disparity Between Ideal and Real Online Education

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought new approaches but also new challenges to the world. Education systems have been affected and consequently are witnessing significant changes in their policies and methodologies.

The Online Education

UNESCO suggests different ways to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on education, some of them are linked to technological platforms and the internet.

In some African countries, an introduction of online learning resources and strategies has allowed learning to continue. This approach seems ideal, considering the need for social distancing measures, however, there are challenges not yet addressed by governments hoping to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the education sector.

Access to the Internet

In 2018, a UN study published through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), showed that only half of the world population had access to the internet. For instance, in Africa, around 24% of the population use the internet (an increase from 2.1% in 2005).

Although access to the internet is increasing, there are many countries in Africa where a large percentage of the population is still offline. High prices, slow connections and weak infrastructure have been reported as the main problems and definitely limit the effectiveness of teaching and learning through online platforms.

africa online education 1

Teachers Training

An effective and inclusive implementation of online education must also consider factors such as learning resources and teacher training. There is vast inequality in the access to digital learning tools, including infrastructure, equipment and teacher’s preparedness.

But it’s not all bad news. The online teaching practices during the Covid-19 crisis are pushing the education sector for a technology upgrade and a positive system transformation that will endure into the future.

Sources

  • UN
  • UNESCO
  • ITU
featured illiteracy poverty

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Illiteracy

illiteracy povertyIt is undeniable that poverty has a direct impact on children’s development. Millions of children around the world live in poverty and suffer from human rights violations, such as abuse and working exploitation.

Literacy seems to be the key to lifting children out of poverty, but what if their minds are overwhelmed by stress? According to research, children raised in poverty are more prone to suffer from stress and the long-term effects can be detrimental. They will struggle to make informed decisions, recall information, and exercise sound judgment. Their creative thinking abilities will also be limited.

It is therefore imperative that the effects of stress are taken into consideration when outlining strategies to reduce illiteracy.

Transform the Role of Teachers

illiteracy povertyTo empower children to participate and ask questions, teachers must establish a learning environment based on psychological safety. Some strategies include sticking to a predictable schedule, celebrating small goals, and personally addressing each child’s needs.

Since poverty can impact memory, it is also crucial that teachers extend patience and reassure students that it is okay to make mistakes. Fear of punishment or embarrassment will only stifle curiosity.

Finally, teachers must be trained to monitor and identify signs of stress in their students, should they need additional support.

Involve Parents and Families

Research shows that parents in poverty may become less inviting and compassionate as they try to balance finances, health, and caregiving. If parents are emotionally distant and cannot afford to prioritize their children’s development, this will cause additional stress.

As literacy requires time, encouragement and practice, children without support will lose out on valuable opportunities to apply their learning. By providing parents with support in the form of plans, materials, and a forum to seek advice, they can play a more active role in integrating literacy and a well-rounded education into their child’s day-to-day life.

poverty illiteracy 3Enable Social Connection

Children in poverty and living under stressful situations often feel alienated from others and have difficulty expressing themselves. Loneliness will only increase the anxiety they feel, further inhibiting their potential and continuing the cycle.

To foster more connection, children should be taught in collaborative settings. Encouraging children to read alongside their peers, share feedback, and build relationships provides a more engaging and enriching experience. A good learning experience that produces results should not feel like work – it should be fun!

The World Literacy Foundation strives to ensure its initiatives mitigate stress. Parental guides are provided to empower families to support children at home. Children also have access to literacy tutoring sessions in which they can safely learn, play, and even share a meal. The WLF has rolled out initiatives like the Kids Read One! Project to allow an entire class to read, learn, and socialize together.

Written by: Charanya Thiyan

Sources:

featured literacy Sun books

Literacy, the Access Code to Healing the World

Education in Nigeria The World Literacy Foundation as a global non-profit organization that seeks to create a greater understanding and awareness of literacy to the wider community through the use of social media, conferences, media, training, research, and collaborative partnerships in the sector. A case study undergone in Nigeria, known as the giant of Africa reports that 35 percent of its adult population is illiterate, and this number remains high because solutions made to address the issue have not seen success in yielding desired results.  Indeed, it is worrisome that 35 percent of the nation’s population is currently facing the consequences of illiteracy. Moreover, it is often unknown that the high rate of illiteracy is, in part, due to the low level of development in Nigeria.  Growth and development in any nation are dependent on the quality of resources available to the entire population.  

Sun BooksUsing solar power to educate

Sun Books is an initiative developed by the World Literacy Foundation that has designed and developed educational software that is preloaded onto solar-powered tablets.  Each tablet contains digital content and eBooks in English and the local language. Tablets are given to classrooms of early primary-level children, and teacher training on the usage of the program is also provided. Each tablet is effective, regardless of Internet access or electricity, which is important in territories such as Uganda where only 26.7% of the population has access to electricity, and Internet connectivity is limited, unstable, and low-speed.  

Ending the poverty cycle

Sun BooksAt the moment our team is based in Gulu, Uganda and we are expanding the project into other locations in Africa such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Guyana, and South Africa. We believe in literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning and education, and people that cannot read or write experience difficulties in developing simple everyday tasks, such as reading medicine labels, filling in job applications, or understanding traffic signs. When we help people to acquire literacy skills, we are empowering them to afford better opportunities in life, and little by little we are striving to break the poverty cycle.
LOGO FOOTER 1

NewsLetter

©Copyright Sun Books. All right reserved.

An initiative by the World Literacy Foundation

©Copyright Sun Books. All right reserved. An initiative by the World Literacy Foundation