The innovators reinventing education technologies in developing countries.
GUEST COLUMN | by Anthony Bloome
In many parts of the United States and other developed countries, technology is becoming embedded into classroom instruction. Teachers are using a diverse range of mobile technologies and educational applications in and outside the traditional classroom that are supporting learning and connecting teachers, students and parents like never before.
Meanwhile, across many developing countries, classrooms are stuck in an educational limbo, relying on out-of-date textbooks – if any at all – and limited human, financial, and infrastructural resources to support education and enable teachers to make their subjects come alive to their students.
Credit-card sized computers, eBook integrated curriculums, and cost-effective apps that provide original, level-appropriate, interactive and animated content in mother tongue languages are but a few of the innovations.
But there is huge potential to leverage low-cost, developing country-appropriate adaptations of these increasingly commonplace technologies and applications to accelerate early grade literacy. That’s why All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development seeks to leverage science and technology to create and apply scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade children in the most underserved communities around the world.
Through a series of grant and prize competitions, All Children Reading – a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian Government – takes a competitive approach to finding these innovative, low-cost and scalable solutions.
Credit-card sized computers, eBook integrated curriculums, and cost-effective apps that provide original, level-appropriate, interactive and animated content in mother tongue languages are but a few of the innovations implemented by 46 All Children Reading grantees and 17 prize finalists and winners that help boost children’s literacy around the world.
In Cambodia, World Education, Inc. and local partner Kampuchean Action for Primary Education created a Total Reading Approach for Children, integrating tablets for reading, literacy benchmarks linked to the national curriculum and a rapid response system to address student reading difficulties. It includes encouraging parents to read at home, the first Khmer mLearning app developed for primary grade students, literacy coaches and other resources.
Little Thinking Minds in Jordan created an interactive digital literacy program for learning Arabic. Geared toward early grade children, Little Thinking Minds is developing original, leveled content in Arabic, disseminated through DVDs, CDs, digital books and mobile applications for use on Android and iPhone. It was started by Arab mothers for Arab children – so it reflects Arab culture and emphasizes positive role models for girls.
In Ghana, Open Learning Exchange installs Basic e-Learning Libraries (BeLLs) that sit on Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer. These BeLLs include up to two terabytes of educational software and multimedia materials that can be customized and updated to meet the specific needs of rural Ghanaian schools. The computer, requiring just 12 volts of power, can be powered off-grid and can be used with or without Internet connectivity. At a cost of $1 per student per year, initial testing showed a 13 percent increase in overall literacy skills of students.
In regions where transportation and technical infrastructure may be lacking, mobile, energy-efficient, and low-cost technologies like these can offer individualized and learner-oriented solutions for parents and teachers. An analysis of All Children Reading innovations from Round 1 of its competition reveals that more than 575,000 children and 18,000 teachers from more than 20 countries have benefited from innovations like these.
This is important. Why? Because literacy unlocks human potential and is the cornerstone of development. It leads to better health, better employment opportunities, and safer and more stable societies. Just by ensuring children know how to read by the time they’ve left primary school, 171 million young people could be lifted out of poverty.
Anthony Bloome is a Senior Education Technology Specialist at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Learn more about USAID competitions.