387 Million Children Lack Basic Reading Skills.  Let’s Make It Zero!

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Disrupting the Status Quo to Address Illiteracy

The Global Book Alliance lights new paths to global illiteracy

On February 21st, celebrations of International Mother Language Day remind us that the human family speaks approximately 7,000 languages.  What magnificent diversity—more than 7,000 words for “love,” “child,” “rain.”  More than 7,000 ways for children to express their aspirations and experiences.  

For educators, the lack of reading materials in too many of these 7,000 languages presents significant challenges to a child’s learning and a teacher’s ability to teach. As many as 40 percent of primary-school children—280 million pupils around the world–are being taught to read in a language that they do not use or understand – setting a child’s education back by years.  The stark reality:  a recent UNESCO study finds that more than half of children globally are unlikely to meet minimum reading and math proficiency levels by the end of primary school.

The solution is simple–though not easy

One of the most cost-effective ways to help children succeed in reading is surprisingly simple.  Provide enough appropriate books – in the languages that children use and understand – in every classroom, for every child and teacher.  For teachers, this only strengthens their ability to teach reading and other subjects.

In too many classrooms around the world, there may be only one textbook for 5, 10, or more children. There may not even be enough titles in a minority to language to support literacy. For example in Malawi, for 2.2 million native speakers of Tumbuka and 2.2 million speakers of Yao, there are fewer than 20 titles available in either language for learning how to read.  

Enter the Global Book Alliance to transform how the book chain works

The Global Book Alliance (GBA) is a partnership of donor agencies, multilateral institutions, and civil society organizations that are committed to bringing books to every child in the world by 2030.  

However, it isn’t just about creating the books.  The Alliance recognizes that the long-term solution lies in thriving local book markets and by fostering a culture of reading.  To help those markets develop, the Alliance will address challenges across the entire book chain, from title development to access, procurement, supply chain, and use. The collective power of partnership will help identify innovative ideas, test them, and replicate successful approaches within and across low-resource countries.  

Imagine a country without books in the languages children use and understand and need to learn how to read.  Then imagine that country’s future where demand for reading is both created and met through a thriving local publishing environment producing and supplying books for even the most underserved children, even in neglected languages. Then envision a classroom where there are books in the hands of every child and the teacher is helping them progress along the path to literacy and learning.

How will that happen?

Technology. Crowdsourcing. Coordination. Local Engagement. And the Dedication of Communities.  The Alliance is launching several flagship initiatives to move more books along the book chain and into the hands of children eager to learn.

  • It begins with a Global Digital Library (GDL).  The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) has begun the effort to revolutionize how anyone, anywhere can access quality reading materials for learning how to read. By 2020, the GDL seeks to not only connect to existing learning repositories, but also house at least 50,000 new titles in 100 languages. Books will be aligned with each year of literacy development for children ages 3-11, prioritizing languages where there are few to no reading materials available. Resources will be open source via web, mobile and for print or translation — and at no cost to the user.  The Alliance has charted a path for increasing the availability of titles for speakers of 500 languages — which represents approximately 80 percent of the global population.   
  • It continues with The Global Book Campaign (GBC).  By partnering with social and digital media providers, using easy-to-use authoring tools, crowdsourcing creative services and translation, and engaging communities, the All Children Reading-Grand Challenge for Development seeks to create 50 books for every child for every year of schooling.
  • It is a change in how we do business. Crowdsourcing and adopting the world’s best practices in publishing and distribution can change the cost of books. Governments and donors are significant procurers of early-grade reading materials, along with commercial markets.  Open licensing reduces costs by 15-20%.  Following standards leads to a 35-40 percent cost reduction, and bundled procurements and print runs can reduce costs by 25-30 percent.  By adopting best practices and coordinating efforts, governments and donors can become more efficient and effective.
  • It is sustained through Publishing Collaboratives. Local publishing markets are the cornerstone for increasing the volume of locally developed, high-quality titles for distribution through the Global Digital Library and other channels.  Linking local authors with publishers also are essential through writers’ forums, book fairs, community events, and websites.
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Build the momentum!

Lots of ways to be part of the solution!  The Global Book Alliance is reaching out to organizations large and small, global and local, to join us and add your particular skills and efforts to achieve global literacy.  

Let’s foster a culture of reading and make it possible for all children to read and learn and grow! Please comment below or get in touch.

–Linda Hiebert

Global Book Alliance

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