Literacy conference july

Literacy Development With Jolly Phonics – Sun Books Literacy Conference

Sun Books is committed with the literacy development in Sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that one of the key factors to improve literacy levels is the constant teacher trainings. That is why we are hosting a monthly literacy conference, in which we are sharing with our stakeholders, different activities and best practices from partners and institutions.

Literacy Conference- Jolly phonics
Jolly phonics – Literacy conference

July’s conference took place last friday 29th. We got over 40 participants attending from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Australia, India, Philippine, UK, USA, New Zealand, Zambia, Ghana, Pakistan, and South Africa.

Our main speaker was Leidy Valbuena, a colombian teacher and researcher from Universidad Distrital FJC, who shared with us her experience working with Jolly Phonics to improve the literacy levels of her students in Bogotá, Colombia.

The conference was based on how to use the Jolly Phonics method to teach Literacy within and outside the classroom. Jolly phonics emphasises the teaching of letter sounds in isolation and how to blend letter sounds to read words and sentences. The method enhances literacy skills, improves reading fluency, pronunciation, phonemic awareness, and writing in both native and foreign language learning.

If you missed the conference, click here to access the webinar recording.

Literacy Can Improve Life

Literacy Can Improve Your Quality Of Life

Vice Chair Sabree Education Services Gambia

Literacy is the ability to read and write in one’s native tongue. However, many people are not able to read and write in their native language. Reading and writing is critical for living in the 21st century and beyond. Which is why we must tackle Illiteracy, a huge problem in the Black community including people of African descent around the world.

In a modern context, we must recognize that literacy, reading and writing, is one of the many ways we can liberate ourselves as Africans and become self-determining people. When we write our own stories we’ll tell the truth about our histories, and our children will be able to read about the greatness of our ancestors – told from our perspective. When people are able to read and write it helps them to reason, think critically and problem solve among other things. When our people are able to read and write they can develop a love of self and not spend millions on bleaching creams, instead investing their money in our continent for its development, for its future. When will policy makers on our continent start looking towards the future and investing in human capital when it comes to literacy?

Literacy Can Improve Life1200x300Illiteracy is defined as not knowing how to read or write beyond a basic level, understanding directions, or having the capacity to complete tasks in a timely manner.

A person can either be purely or functionally illiterate. Purely illiterate individuals cannot read or write in any capacity for all practical purposes. In contrast, functionally illiterate individuals can read and potentially write simple sentences with a limited vocabulary, but cannot read or write well enough to handle the daily requirements of life in their own society.

Many young children on our continent enter school speaking their native tongue  however, do not experience any continuity with that language – instead being taught in Arabic or a European language. This process of language learning might be disruptive to our young learners, as research shows that when young children have the foundation of literacy in their native tongue it is easier for them to transition to another language.

According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, at least 14% of adults across the world are illiterate. In 2015, 58 million children and 63 million teenagers did not have access to basic and secondary education and were not able to learn how to read or write; with women representing two thirds of 781 million illiterates worldwide. The report also cites that 9 out of 10 countries with the highest illiteracy rate are African countries! (For more details see Global Education Monitoring Report.)

According to an infograph released by the Unesco Institute for Statistics on Literacy as of 2015, sub-Saharan Africa has a 64% literacy rate. South Sudan ranks lowest of them all, with a literacy rate of just 27%,  Burkina Faso at 28.7%, Niger at 28.7%, Mali at 33.4%, Chad at 35.4%, Somalia at 37.8%, Ethiopia at 39%, Guinea at 41% and Benin at 42.4%. This same research  found that of the 774 million illiterate adults recorded in 2013, two thirds of these, or about 493 million, are women who are unable or have difficulties reading text messages, filling out forms and reading their doctor’s prescription. Additionally, there are 123 million people between 15 and 24 years of age who cannot read or write. Of these illiterate youth, 76 million are women and 54 million of them are based in only nine countries: IndiaPakistanNigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Republic of TanzaniaEgypt and Burkina Faso.

Currently The Gambia has a 36% literacy rate. Statistics also show that the median age of the population in the Gambia from 1950 to 2050* is 17.5 years old. With a strong youth population, Gambia must take seriously the cause of literacy and recognize the need to educate young boys and girls.

These statistics are mind blowing considering our continent has the youngest population on the planet. With this knowledge, when will policy makers begin to do long term planning for the next 100 years by investing in our infants and toddlers? What is the plan to increase literacy? What is the plan for our youth population? Will we allow them all to flee their communities to Europe or South America on makeshift boats?

Educating your youth population is crucial for our continent’s continued positive growth, and development. When we invest in literacy, we will also see the results in our people. Among the several benefits of literacy in an individual, the ability to read and write helps to build self-esteem and self confidence in citizens.

Part of this self-confidence comes from one’s ability to express oneself with an extensive vocabulary. The inability to express yourself through writing or speaking can be frustrating. This can lead to anxiety, depression, or other issues that impact the overall quality of life. The more able a person is to express themselves, the greater their confidence, their self-esteem, and their chance at living a happy, healthy life.

Many of our young children (0-5yrs) on the continent do not have access to books.These early years are critical for brain development, as the architecture of the brain is being formed. Not having access to books the young brain is missing out on valuable experiences  that young children need,we call them life skills.

Having access to books expands the knowledge of young children, allowing them to learn about other children’s culture and beliefs. Books allow children to enhance their communication skills and learn how to make decisions and have choices. When reading, books can transport them to new places, and help them learn, creative out of the box thinking.

The World Literacy Foundation reported that illiteracy and low levels of literacy estimated costs total approximately £800 billion to the global economy annually. Global economies are moving towards a knowledge-based economy, to adequately prepare our communities, literacy will be an essential skill to compete in the global economy. With the high proportion of illiterate adults on the continent so many opportunities remain inaccessible as individuals are not adequately skilled to participate in this growing global economy. This results in slower GDP growth in the long term.

As an educator, I have observed that investing in infants and toddlers gives our society a 100% Return on Investment (ROI). When children get to kindergarten with pre-literacy skills, they will begin a journey of lifelong learning and grow up to be positive contributors to our continent. Investing in the early years will help prepare the next generation of African leaders and citizens. When we encourage children in this way, we help develop children’s brains, so they grow up to become adults who are able to use their executive functioning.

I hope that policy makers on the African continent will begin to understand the many  benefits of having a literate continent. When we invest in literacy during the first 2000 days we will have a literate continent. When we invest in the future now, our continent will be able to compete in the global economy in the future. Let’s get our children ready to participate in 21st and 22nd century markets.

Daseta Gray

Vice Chair,  Sabree Education Services Gambia

Edited by: Nyasha Franklin


  • Basit, Nimra. “15 Reasons Why Reading Is Important.” Curious Desire, 26 Oct. 2021, 
  • Dirie, Waris. “Africa Has the Highest Illiteracy Rate Worldwide.” Save a Little Desert Flower, 29 Mar. 2016, 
  • Giovetti, Olivia. “6 Benefits of Literacy in the Fight against Poverty.” Concern Worldwide, 27 Apr. 2020, 
  • Cago, Lanessa. “25 Most Illiterate Countries.” WorldAtlas, WorldAtlas, 25 Apr. 2017, 
  • Low, Amanda, and Nicola Miranda. “The Impact of Illiteracy and the Importance of Early Intervention.” World Literacy Foundation, 23 July 2021, 
  • “Why Literacy?” World Literacy Foundation, 3 June 2022,
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




©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

Pin It on Pinterest

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated with the latest news.
We respect your privacy.