Books at the Boundaries of the World

blogEntryTopperI’ve always been a big reader. I read everything I could get my hands on … sports, history, fiction, non-fiction. I usually had three or four books going at once. They sparked my curiosity, blazed new paths of learning, and painted a world of wondrous opportunity. Maybe that’s what resonated with me when I saw a great piece on Worldreader, a non-profit focused on putting books in the hands of students in distant reaches of the globe.

Many locales struggle with access to good books for students. It’s a problem in many school districts and private schools within the U.S. You can imagine how that problem might magnify when compounded by distance, bulk, and transportation inefficiencies. Worldreader’s mission is to bridge that lack of access to books, seeking “to work towards a world in which every child and her family have the books they need to improve their lives, the practice of reading is commonplace, and where illiteracy is a thing of the past.”

Their solution is to deliver digital readers to children in the developing world. How are they doing so far? Take a look at a dashboard captured from their web site on April 7, 2016:


This truly is a remarkable story. Worldreader's efforts have had a profound impact on literacy in far-flung locales. It also offers a great reminder that technology doesn’t have to be the answer to teaching, but can provide the foundation for learning opportunities. To say nothing of the impact on literacy levels, the ability to craft learning episodes and construct meaningful knowledge structures is magnified exponentially with access to quality content. Andy Bryant , Executive Director of the Segal Family Foundation, offers a great summation of this point when he says:

“It’s one thing to get books into the hands of these kids. But without the appropriate content to stimulate the mind, it’s incredibly difficult for anyone to find their passion. The real magic comes down to getting the right books. For Lwala Community Alliance’s students, that means digital versions of textbooks they use every day in the classroom; for Nyaka’s program, it’s low-level storybooks teaching students about the world around them. The truth is, kids want to read stories they can relate to or learn from curriculum they recognize. They need to be inspired. And that’s part of the essence of our work. Curating local and relevant content so that reading becomes truly purposeful.”

I know that there are profound impediments to using technology in many locales. It has been estimated that only 31% of people in developing countries have access to the internet as opposed to nearly 77% in the developed world. Other barriers include lack of electricity, technological skill-gaps in teachers, and an inability to sustain e-tech advances over time. Still, visionary approaches such as Google’s Project Loon (using high-altitude balloons to provide wi-fi in removed areas, see video below) and Worldreader’s mission to drive literacy gains around the globe offer a hint at what tech can help us do for distant learners in the coming decades.