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By All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development

Launched in 2011, as a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) has established itself as a sandbox for innovation and a leader in EdTech for literacy. We support innovators in developing, implementing, and scaling game-changing solutions, tools and approaches to address gaps and barriers to child literacy in and outside of school to improve reading outcomes in low-resource contexts.  Since 2011, ACR GDC has awarded more than US$25 million to 90+ innovators, with 35% of the awards supporting solutions for children with disabilities. Today, we are one of the largest innovation funds focused on inclusive education.

We believe that education in the 21st century must leverage innovation and technology to help children learn to read and read to learn. Recognizing the digital divide, we envision EdTech solutions as a complement and support to existing teaching and learning materials in the classroom. EdTech should be considered and applied if it provides access to education for a child who didn’t have access before, significantly lowers the cost of providing access as compared to the status quo, and significantly increases relevant learning outcomes as compared to current programs.

Evidence-based EdTech to improve literacy for hard-to-reach learners

ACR GCD has tested a wide range of technologies and implementation approaches to address the reading needs of marginalized children in and outside of school. Our research reveals that technology-based literacy projects, when applied appropriately, can effectively disseminate new and existing learning materials to underserved populations, while also offering individualized learning experiences and facilitating digital tracking of students’ literacy learning. EdTech is particularly effective at improving reading and language outcomes for remote learners in low-resource contexts and emergencies, girls who lack other options and children with disabilities.

For example, in 2016 ACR GCD joined three collaborators to conduct the EduApp4Syria Prize to develop smartphone apps that build foundational literacy and improve psychosocial well-being for Syrian refugee children. When evaluating the impact of two of the apps, Feed the Monster and Antura and the Letters, ACR GCD found that children’s outcomes improved in both respects. Both apps showed both boys and girls making gains. A recent World Bank study of a low-cost, light intervention utilizing cell phones preloaded with Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library (GDL) (another ACR GCD supported innovation) supported these findings, indicating that reading outcomes could be improved within as little as five days, with learning outcomes continuing to improve one month out.

Another example includes ACR GCD supported EdTech innovations to improve early grade reading outcomes for students who are blind or low-vision through a series of grants (2014-2018). When evaluating three of those projectsBookshare India, Lesotho Literacy for Young Visually Impaired Persons and Reading Beyond Sight, ACR GCD found that, while overcoming the stigma and lack of resources available to support these learners remains challenging, the solutions reduced barriers that restricted their ability to attend classes with sighted peers and increased their ability to read independently.

ACR GCD has also developed and implemented groundbreaking adapted assessments and requires a commitment by awardees to ensure children with disabilities are included in assessments and assessed in appropriate ways.

Reaching more learners in more engaging and cheaper formats

Credit: Pal Laukli

Open-source content is key to cheaper and scalable EdTech solutions. ACR GCD was an early advocate of the open education movement and remains committed to developing and supporting solutions with open access, data, assessments, toolkits and software. We seek to strengthen the entire education sector by making our solutions and research open education resources in the public domain, released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, resharing, adaptation, and redistribution with no or limited restrictions.

To reach more learners, EdTech solutions should also reduce the costs of content development and production. During the Book Boost: Access for All Challenge, we partnered with Pearson and Project Literacy to address the shortage of quality books in accessible formats for children with disabilities, awarding innovators for changing the way they create book files, so that all the components necessary for accessibility are built in from the start, preventing the need for added costs to adapt books. From that competition, eKitabu created a step-by-step guide to creating accessible EPUBs.

EdTech solutions should also be high quality. ACR GCD launched several challenges to create high quality content in underserved languages, including local and national sign languages. During the Sign on for Literacy Prize, Rochester Institute for Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf developed open source software that enables communities to create literacy content in local and national sign languages to be shared on World Around You. Recognizing the value of peer-to-peer learning and the need for deaf-led expertise and mentoring, ACR GCD developed a Sign Language Storybook Cohort to promote collaboration, learning and adaptation among current awardees and local disable persons organizational partners. In collaboration with RIT/NTID, we are also developing minimum and gold standards for sign language book production for deaf children, which will be open source and available for global distribution.

We must also find ways to encourage usage of solutions. ACR GCD has funded the development of a range of online platforms to host quality digital books and learning materials in underserved languages. In addition to the platforms above, we have also funded enhancements to the Bloom software and supported content development available on platforms like Asafeer, Bloom Library,  and Let’s Read Asia. We also require content to be compatible cross-platform to encourage wider usage and accessibility.

Extending the conversation: convening a consultation on the 2023 GEM Report

On Thursday 19 May, we are hosting a closed consultation event with ACR GCD awardees to collect feedback and evidence for the 2023 GEM Report on technology and education on two key dimensions: reaching disadvantaged populations and ensuring content reaches all learners in more engaging and cheaper formats.

ACR GCD will focus on what we know about the role of technology in addressing education challenges identified with respect to access, equity and inclusion through the experience of our innovators. In particular, we will discuss:

  1. How can technology be used to provide education to all hard-to-reach learners, particularly learners with disabilities and special education needs, remote learners, children in emergency contexts, and girls?
  2. How can more knowledge reach more learners in more attractive and cheaper formats, particularly through the use of free and open digital content, reducing the costs of content development and production while increasing quality, and using digital content, like high-quality accessible book production?

We are excited to convene this gathering of our innovators, who are leading the way in implementing and testing ground-breaking EdTech to support hard to reach learners. A recording of the event will be available afterwards, which we hope will contribute to and expand the dialogue in the broader education sector.

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