When catastrophe strikes, our first response is to send water, shelter, food and health workers. However, most catastrophes — be they conflicts, health crises or natural disasters — have devastating effects that last much longer than the initial onset. According to the UN, it takes an average of 17 years for families to return home from refugee camps. That could mean children caught in these crises end up being raised in these camps, growing up without access to proper schools and education.
This is true not only for conflicts but for natural disasters and public health crises as well. Recently, the Ebola crisis devastated young people’s education within Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. In Sierra Leone, the education of more than 1.8 million children was disrupted and schools are only now reopening.
It’s in scenarios like these that children’s education is sacrificed. When children don’t have a school to go to or teachers to teach them, it stunts their futures and halts progress in the region. Education — and the literacy skills children should learn in school — unlocks human potential and is the cornerstone of development. It leads to better health, better employment opportunities, and safer and more stable societies.
And this is why an initiative like All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is important. All Children Reading – a partnership between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian Government – is an ongoing series of competitions that leverages science and technology to create and apply scalable solutions to improve literacy skills of early grade learners in developing countries.
The partnership has just announced the winners of its Technology to Support Education in Crisis and Conflict Settings prize. The prize, conducted in partnership with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), sourced ideas for innovative, technology-supported approaches to allow children to maintain access to basic education despite disruptions experienced during crises or conflict.
Ideas were required to: be able to be applied within the first six months following a crisis, when infrastructure is compromised and teachers are scarce; reinforce and improve upon existing curriculum; build on functioning infrastructure and services; and be appropriate for the age group and local context. All Children Reading has committed up to $20,000 of seed funding to pilot each of the winning ideas.
In Sierra Leone, VOTO Mobile proposed introducing mobile phone programming as a supplement to an already existing radio-based curriculum. The radio lessons are played on 41 radio stations to an audience of 1.7 million students. VOTO wants to improve these lessons by adding more interaction, personalization and monitoring. Through interactive voice response (IVR), VOTO’s solution will engage students with live polls and text messages that can be adapted to any language, subject or educational standard.
Stanford’s Learning, Design and Technology Program is working to foster children’s imagination and enable creativity even in low resource settings. While many of us might throw away the cardboard box a package is delivered in, children in Uganda and Nepal will be using it to make models (e.g. gear ratios) and develop early learning skills. The solution is aiming to leverage existing supply deliveries by repackaging those supply materials into interactive learning tools for children.
The Ukrainian conflict has displaced thousands over the past year. However, while a large majority of basic services, including phone and power, are still available, Internet has been disrupted. Outernet, Inc., based in Chicago, Illinois, plans on using existing infrastructure and mobile devices to deliver educational content, news, and disaster updates. The content — customizable to any language or for children with disabilities — is free of charge and students can access via a wi-fi enabled device, view customized educational content or download for offline-use through local Outernet receivers called Lighthouses.
Kenya’s Xavier Project is working to provide free educational content to refugees within Kenya via mobile phones. In partnership with Eneza Education, they will provide free cached offline content accessible on any smart device. The content will be used to teach literacy and numeracy to more than 400,000 out-of-school refugee children. Furthermore, it will provide educational content in health, financial literacy as well as a continuing courses for teachers.
War, disease or a natural disaster should not mean the end of a child’s hopes for a bright future. Despite the chaos and disruptions, All Children Reading innovators are working to ensure that all children — no matter where they live — maintain access to a basic education.
If you want to learn more about the winners and the honorable mentions or have a smart idea that could impact children’s literacy, join us at www.AllChildrenReading.org.
Rebecca Leege is the World Vision Project Director for All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development.