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Agencies Announce 32 Innovations to Improve Child Literacy

11 September 2012
Person writing at blackboard in front of seated children (AP Images)

Children attend a class at a government-run school on the outskirts of Allahabad, India, on International Literacy Day September 8.

Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners World Vision and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) announced 32 winning innovations for children's literacy at an International Literacy Day celebration at USAID headquarters in Washington September 7.

The competition to create innovative solutions to improve early grade reading in the developing world — the "All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development" grant competition — brought more than 450 proposals from more than 75 countries.

“Today, on International Literacy Day, we have the opportunity to celebrate an initiative designed to generate game-changing ideas to help children around the world improve their reading skills. The ability to read is central to all aspects of a child’s life and future. Yet, 61 million boys and girls are out of school. And just as troubling, schooling doesn’t always translate into learning,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

All Children Reading, launched in November 2011, is a multiyear partnership to find groundbreaking solutions for illiteracy and to inspire global action around this issue. The focus was on innovative practices in applying research to improve teaching and enhancing the quality of education data. The 32 award nominees are proposing innovative ideas to promote literacy in more than 20 low-income countries. For example:

• In Haiti, the Institute of Higher Education and Infotronics is planning to introduce 250 interactive white boards into Haitian classrooms, bringing the same technology that children are learning with in the United States to more than 20 primary schools in Port au Prince and reaching 25,000 students.

• In the Philippines, the Education Development Center is harnessing the power of mobile technology to address the lack of reliable education data. In the past, the Department of Education in the Philippines had to rely on a pencil-and-paper system that often took as long as 18 months to receive and process data. This led to more than 50 percent of public primary schools failing to submit any required data.

With the center’s support, teachers will be able to submit text messages with student reading performance data directly to a Department of Education database. In turn, teachers will have access to the database and receive training in interpreting the results and designing new strategies around them.

• In India, a local organization called PlanetRead is aiming to improve the literacy skills of 28 million children by adding subtitles to Hindi TV programs, music videos and popular movies. Through a five-year pilot study in five Hindi states, the approach has already shown significant results. In their rural sample, 45 percent of girls could not read after five years of schooling. But that number dropped to 16 percent when the girls were exposed to same-language subtitling.

All winners showcased their innovations at a DevelopmentXChange session. “Since the ability to read is the most basic skill required to overcome poverty, one of humanity’s greatest challenges is to invent ways to ensure that all of our children are reading. If we fail, tragically their vast potential will be lost to all of us,” said Kofi Essien, project manager for Open Learning Exchange Ghana.

OLE Ghana proposes to develop a national network of low-cost digital libraries. Other innovators will address critical needs for teaching materials in a child’s mother tongue, teaching and learning tools for the blind, and more accurate and timely data to make the right decisions to improve learning.

“Our work in communities around the world over the past 60 years has taught us that education, particularly for young girls, is absolutely foundational to the future success of a country," said Kent Hill, senior vice president of international programs at World Vision. "By seeking innovative new ideas for reading and education, we are focusing our efforts on one of the areas of community development that brings the greatest dividends for the future."

“Education is one of the best investments we can make to lift people out of poverty, and that’s why it is the flagship of the Australian aid program,” AusAID Director General Peter Baxter said. “One-fifth of Australia’s overseas aid budget is targeted at literacy and other education programs. AusAID is proud to be working with USAID and World Vision to inspire innovations that will bring the joys and benefits of reading to children and their families.”

In addition to announcing the 32 All Children Reading innovators, the International Literacy Day event featured education leaders, senior Obama administration officials, and taped messages from former first lady Laura Bush and others discussing efforts to achieve quality education for all. The event was co-hosted with the Brookings Institution and the Global Partnership for Education.

For more information about the award nominees, visit www.AllChildrenReading.org.