Information and stories about Literacy Information.

Town Library
Rwinkwavu, a community of 30,000 people in Rwanda, is significantly economically disadvantaged. The town is mostly made up of farmers and lacks basic modern resources such as running water and power.

Despite these conditions, the non-profit Ready for Reading built a town library in 2012 that Worldreader, a Barcelona-based charity, then filled with e-readers, smartphones, Wi-Fi and a broad range of digital books for locals to explore.

Books not only provide entertainment, but their educational value is paramount. This access to knowledge helps to improve language skills and literacy while explaining new and different information in an enjoyable way. More specifically, reading has helped adults in Rwinkwavu master various skills including applying for new jobs, opening bank accounts and even running their own businesses.

Accessing knowledge through reading has also helped children develop interests in topics they most likely would not have explored otherwise. Each night, people of all ages now gather at Rwinkwavu’s town library to read after long days of laboring in their fields. As they continue to learn new information, new doors continue to open for them.

More than one in three adults in sub-Saharan Africa, a total of 182 million, are unable to read and write. In Rwanda, 48 million of the youths are illiterate. The population’s lack of education has led to 44 percent of people living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. However, new town libraries like the one in Rwinkwavu could potentially change the status quo.

Worldreader has already used its digital books to fill multiple schools and libraries across 14 different countries in sub-Saharan Africa, helping to educate over 100,000 children and adults. The charity hopes to continue its expansion, with plans to fill another two libraries by the end of the year.

“There is massive inequality in the world. Africa needs education at scale to start closing the gaps,” said Worldreader Co-Founder Colin McElwee.

Alice Gottesman

Photo: Worldreader

 Education in Rural IndiaHippocampus Learning Centres (HLCs) are attempting to close the gap in education and literacy within rural India. These centres are private institutions designed to supplement public schools at an affordable cost to the families in these areas.

The most recent census published by the Indian government in 2011 reported 73 percent of India’s total population as literate. This is an increase from the 2001 census, which stated a 65 percent literacy rate.

At first glance these numbers seem may relatively low for a rapidly growing country with a huge presence in the global market. However, a gap in literacy rates based on location and gender becomes evident when looking more closely at the data.

Rural literacy is estimated to be 68 percent while the urban literacy rate is 84 percent. This disparity grows worse when looking at the difference in these rates among men and women in rural areas: 77 percent of men and only 58 percent of women can read and write.

One of the most commonly cited reasons for lower female literacy is the general attitude towards girls within Indian society. The Indian government has even acknowledged the country’s female infanticide problem.

Girls are seen as a burden due to the still prevalent dowry system in rural, traditional areas. Many families struggle to afford the price of marriage.

These statistics make it evident that India has a strong need for the Hippocampus Learning Centres.

Poverty is another major reason for the gap in education across the board in rural India. Poverty usually correlates with lower quality education as well as less access to schooling.

Many families within these communities rely on agriculture to survive. Consequently, it is common for children to spend their time working on their family’s land to help provide income and food. When these children are able to attend school, the quality of education they receive is sometimes unsatisfactory. In a Times of India article, the author recalls, “most classrooms weren’t being led by teachers, because there simply weren’t enough teachers to take each and every class.”

The Indian government implemented Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SAA) in 2001, “to provide for a variety of interventions for universal access and retention, bridging of gender and social category gaps in elementary education and improving the quality of learning.”

SAA has led to numerous schools being built as well as trained teachers and free school supplies. This act was designed to universalize and improve upon elementary education within India.

The program has helped to increase literacy, however reports of underpaid teachers and crumbling rural schools still remain. In addition to structural issues, problems such as the recent water crisis in Kanpur have strained the ability for children in these areas to attend school.

While these schools have a long way to go, Hippocampus Learning Centres are showing promise within rural areas. These centres are designed to fill the gaps within The Right to Education Act passed by the Indian government.

HLC views the current curriculum within rural Indian schools to be inadequate. These private supplemental learning institutions attempt to provide more education for the poor at a low cost, with the help of third party investors.

While Hippocampus Learning Centres show great promise within rural India, there is always room for progress. The continued investment into public schools within rural areas as well as supplemental learning centers could further close the education gap.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Flickr


Researchers from MIT, Tufts and Georgia State University are conducted a study to determine whether tablet computers that have with literacy applications can improve global literacy rates among children living in extremely poor communities.

As part of the first phase of the study, tablets were sent to a pair of Ethiopian villages with no schools or written culture, a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher teacher ratio of 60 to 1 and a rural school in the U.S. with mostly low-income students.

The tablets contained specially designed apps to help illiterate children ages four to 11 learn letters, sounds and reading fundamentals. The children in Ethiopia had never seen electricity or paper before this study.

Maryanne Wolf, founder and director of Tuft’s Center for Reading and Language Research, visited Ethiopia in 2013 and saw how excited the children were to use the tablets.

“The children learned to be facile so quickly—it was breathtaking,” Wolf said, according to a Tufts Now article.

In the African deployments, students who used the tablets scored much higher than those who did not. The American students also improved their scores dramatically after using the tablets for just four months.

“The whole premise of our project is to harness the best science and innovation to bring education to the world’s most under-resourced children,” associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT Cynthia Breazeal said, reports an MIT News article.

The main theme of this project is that it is self-starting. The research team purposely did not tell the children what to do with the tablets because if the project expands, they will not be able to bring in coaches to teach the children how to use the apps.

Within minutes of receiving the tablet, one Ethiopian boy figured out how to turn it on. Within a week, the Ethiopian children had the apps up and running.

The research team is currently analyzing the data collected from the trials. They have also created a nonprofit organization called Curious Learning, which is now looking for partners to help launch larger pilot programs in an effort to improve global literacy rates.

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr

Education Women in Poverty

Educating women is a powerful weapon in fighting global poverty. But those living in developing countries may not reach their full potential because they often do not receive a proper education.

Currently, females are underrepresented both in school enrollment and attendance in developing countries.

According to the book “Deprived Devis: Women’s Unequal Status in Society,” “The evidence is overwhelming that education improves health and productivity and that the poorest people gain most. When schools open their doors wider to girls and women, the benefits multiply.”

There are several indicators that reveal important patterns and trends in women’s education in developing countries, such as measures of literacy, enrollment status and years spent in school. The World Bank says, “Each of these indicators leads to the same conclusions: the level of female education is low in the poorest countries, with just a handful of exceptions, and by any measure, the gender gap is the largest in these countries.”

Literacy Rates
Literacy is one of the dominant objectives of education around the world. The ability to read and write is a human right; nonetheless, the literacy rates remain low among women, especially in developing countries.

Primary School Enrollment
UNICEF says that low adult literacy rates are a result of past under-investment in the education of women, specifically referring to primary school.

Dropout Rates and Years of Schooling
According to the World Bank, “Gross enrollment rates, which are usually reported for all primary and secondary classes, tend to mask some other important measures of educational progress. These include how many of the students remain in school, how many are promoted to the next grade, and how many complete each cycle.”

Secondary School Enrollment
Female enrollment at the secondary level has remained low in the developing world. Many women drop out during primary school or do not have access to the resources they need in order to attend secondary school.

Teachers Training
The lack of access to education in developing countries can also be blamed on the decline in teacher training. This diminution is due to the shortage of teachers in low-income countries. There are not enough resources to train individuals for this role.

Poverty is also considered a major contributor. “If a family has limited funds and has to be selective on whom to send to school, more often than not, it is going to be the men,” according to UNICEF.

Cultural Practices
The machismo ideology still prevails in some developing countries — and adverse cultural practices also contribute to the lack of access to education. Females are more likely to stay home and learn how to be housewives and mothers.

Recently, a UNICEF spokesperson emphasized that “females are often shackled by gender roles and outdated traditions, with male privilege and entitlement ensuring that when educational opportunities are limited, men will take available classroom space. Gender roles and traditions that keep girls from school contribute an additional barrier to universal education: illiterate mothers.”

The speaker also added that UNICEF ensures children have access to a rights-based, quality education that is rooted in gender equality because it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that impacts future generations.

The United Nations identified the importance of universal education during the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In order to meet the goals, the World Bank said that “developing countries need to focus more on improving female enrollment and attendance of secondary and tertiary education as well as continuing efforts to improve women’s access to primary education.”

The U.N. recognizes three social benefits of providing females with education: better health care for women and their families, better maternal and infant health and outcomes, and finally, access to better jobs that help families and countries prosper. UNICEF adds that “All of these occurrences are imperative to global development, and they can be accomplished by educating females in developing countries.”

Isabella Rölz

Sources: Google Books, The World BankUNGEI, UNICEFUnited Nations
Photo: Women Thrive

improving_literacyStatistically, if you walk up to someone randomly and ask them to read aloud your favorite T.S. Eliot poem, nine times out of ten that stranger will be very embarrassed by the prospect of reading aloud, and a staggering one out in ten won’t be able to read the poem at all.

According to a new report by the World Literacy Foundation (WLF), a staggering 10 percent of the world’s population is either completely or functionally illiterate, meaning they can’t perform basic tasks like reading a medicine label or balancing a checkbook.

Globally, more than 796 million people are illiterate, and according to the WLF report, this year alone it will cost the global economy over one trillion dollars.

A rare uniting factor between countries with great wealth and those with very little, illiteracy around the globe traps individuals “in a cycle of poverty with limited opportunities for employment or income generation,” said the report.

Aside from being unable to do simple things like read a nutrition label or fill out a job application, the WLF says poor literacy also affects a person’s ability to engage in critical thinking activities. Examples of these include understanding government policy and voting in elections, analyzing advertising and recognizing scams, and of course, the ability to pursue higher education or advanced training.

All of these hurdles placed before the illiterate severely hamper their ability to be as socially and economically productive as their literate counterparts. Illiterate people earn up to 42 percent less due to difficulties with communication and handling tasks that require some degree of literacy.

Illiteracy places even more strain on society by creating barriers to healthcare and financial planning for the illiterate, which can lead to increased crime rates or welfare dependence.

“One can put figures on the social cost in terms of welfare payments or the burden on the health system. But the real opportunity cost will never be known. These are the costs of lost opportunities to create individual financial wealth, encourage entrepreneurs, build healthier and more stable families whose members can make a productive contribution to all areas of society (political and cultural as well as economic),” said the report.

A formula developed by the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates the cost of illiteracy to a country at 0.5 percent of their GDP, meaning the wealthier the country, the more dramatic the impact. The U.S. alone stands to lose an estimated $362 billion this year due to the combined costs of illiteracy.

Ensuring access to quality primary education for all children is critical to improving literacy levels globally, and reversing the economic drain it creates, says the World Literacy Foundation. Progress has been made, said the organization and initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals and the recent Sustainable Development Goals are drawing attention to the issue, but more needs to be done, according to the WLF.

The WLF offered some recommendations in their report to bolster the current efforts to eradicate illiteracy. These included: establishing adult and parental literacy programs, establishing programs to attract and retain students in schools, and ensuring access to quality resources, training and technologies to students.

The organization even went so far as to suggest that if the global economy is going to “literally throw away money” through inaction, that it might as well actively invest in literacy programs.

Gina Lehner

Sources: The Guardian, World Literacy Foundation
Photo: Flickr

New Census Reveals Depth of Poverty in India
According to India’s most recent Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC), the extent of poverty in India could be worse than ever before.

A total of 300 million Indian households were surveyed in this census, and 73 percent of those households are in small, rural villages. Of these villages, those who have a job that provides a stable salary make up 10 percent. Those who can afford to pay taxes or own a car make up only 5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

This data solidifies the fact that roughly one-third of the world’s poor currently live in India.

“It is our firm belief that the member countries will not only overcome the endemic poverty in the region but will in the coming years develop the capacity to address all problems relating to poverty,” said SECC Minister of State of Rural Development Sudarshan Bhagat.

In the meantime, those problems are still piling up. According to the SECC, literacy rates in rural India are disheartening, with 35.7 percent of residents illiterate and only 3.5 percent of students graduating from school.

The SECC data, however, is not without its flaws. The data is not quite as concrete as what might be found in a more formal federal survey, but it does provide the most cohesive look at poverty in the country published in recent years.

“We should beware of any illusion that SECC data can be used for the purpose of drawing a line between poor and non-poor households,” said development economist Jean Drèze. “There are fundamental, conceptual and practical difficulties with doing that on the basis of proxy indicators, even with good-quality data.”

According to a different study, a report made by India’s Planning Commission, 363 million Indians, or 29.5 percent of the total population, were living in poverty between 2011 and 2012. Even though this data is a few years old, it does not paint a much brighter picture of the current state of poverty in India. For now, the SECC report is the best bet.

“Quite likely, the SECC dataset is more reliable than earlier Below Poverty Line (BPL) surveys and could be well used, for pro-active identification of people who need social security pensions, housing subsidies and so on,” added Drèze.

– Alexander Jones

Sources: Economic Times, CNN, Huffington Post
Photo: Deccan Chronicle

The Population Council has a history of important and influential research in Egypt. In 1997, the council implemented the Adolescence and Social Change in Egypt survey. In 2009, the Survey of Young People in Egypt reached 15,000 young people from 11,000 households. Most recently, in 2014, 10,000 of the young people from the 2009 survey were interviewed for a second time.

Data from these surveys is critical to evaluate the challenges that Egyptian youth are facing in the transition of life before and after the revolution in Egypt. Additionally, Egypt’s population currently has a high percentage of youth that will determine the future of the country.

Data was gender-disaggregated in order to more clearly understand what kinds of programs can best empower women and girls. Data collected included information on health, education and employment.

The progress and improvements needed in the education sector deserve particular attention and demonstrate the complexity of changes in Egypt.

One of the most exciting advancements in the region is the nearly universal primary school enrollment. In 2014, more than 95% of youth aged 13 to 18 had attended school.

However, further analysis reveals that many youths still do not complete their basic education even if they had attended school for at least some period of time. In addition, there is clear gender inequality related to education. Twenty-one percent of women aged 25 to 34 were illiterate in sharp contrast to eight percent of men in this same age range.

Education quality is a critical factor in addition to education enrollment and regular attendance. Education through route memorization is not likely to provide students with the skills they will need to succeed in life. However, “40 percent of students report teachers ‘always’ only want students to memorize” while only “9 percent report that teachers encourage students to express their opinion.”

Furthermore, quality of basic education is lacking. Among youth who had attended five years of school, 50% cannot read, 50% cannot write and 40% cannot perform basic math.

While Egypt may be headed in the right direction with increased school enrollment, there is an unmet need for high quality education. The youth of Egypt represent the future of the country, and it is possible for the country to prosper if this unmet need is recognized and addressed.

Iliana Lang

Sources: Population Council 1, Population Council 2
Photo: Japan Times

Education in Sierra Leone has been a challenge. The devastating Sierra Leone Civil War that lasted from 1991 to 2002 took the nation’s education system as an early casualty, wiping out 1,270 primary schools and forcing 67 percent of all-school aged children out of school in the year 2001. More than a decade later, education in Sierra Leone is still recovering from the destruction caused by the conflict. The first nine years of education are compulsory, but this law remains virtually impossible to enforce due to the shortage of facilities left in the war’s wake. The West African nation continues to struggle with its school system and the difficult tasks of rebuilding schools, training teachers, and educating children who have never stepped foot inside of a classroom.

The system of education in Sierra Leone comprises three basic levels: primary, junior secondary and senior secondary. All six years of primary education are free of cost. Students begin junior secondary school around the age of 12 and remain at that level through age 15. Girls living in rural areas typically have the toughest time reaching this level of schooling due to cultural beliefs that often discourage their participation. Students enroll in senior secondary schools from the ages of 15 to 18, and it is at this level that they may choose to between continuing their academic education with plans of proceeding to university or focusing on vocational training. Most vocational education programs focus on agricultural skills, followed by other proficiencies like mechanics, carpentry and bricklaying. Students wishing to pursue a university degree in Sierra Leone have two options to choose from: Njala University and the University of Sierra Leone.

The Hurdles Facing Sierra Leone’s School System

Despite these opportunities, education in Sierra Leone continues to face significant hurdles. More than 40 percent of primary school teachers are untrained. There is also a massive shortage of textbooks, and it is not uncommon for four or five students to share a single book. The literacy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds is below 60 percent, and the total adult literacy rate is even lower, at about 43 percent. Secondary school participation is low, with a net attendance ratio from 2008 to 2012 of 39.9 percent for boys and 33.2 percent for girls.

The Good News about Education in Sierra Leone

However, this is not to say that Sierra Leone has failed to improve from the initial damage left by the war. Education in Sierra Leone has experienced notable advances in recent years. Just after the conflict, a mere 55 percent of children were finishing primary school. That number has since jumped to 76 percent of students finishing primary school, and 77 percent of those children advancing to the junior secondary level. The youth literacy rate jumped a full percentage point from 2009 to 2010. The government of Sierra Leone spends 14 percent of its national budget on education and half of that figure is devoted to primary education.

With generous funding from the government of the Netherlands, teacher-training programs have been greatly improved in recent years with more than 3,000 teachers now enrolled in first-time or continuing courses. UNICEF’s Cross Border Schools Project, which trains teachers and school managers, is in the process of curtailing the high numbers of out-of-school children throughout the nation’s border regions.

Girls’ Education in Sierra Leone

An especially serious problem that continues to plague education in Sierra Leone is the challenge of girls’ education. Although girls’ educational access is improving, class completion remains scarce with high dropout rates and consistently low enrollment in secondary school. Early pregnancy, gender-based violence, child marriage and cultural biases propagate the cycle of gender inequality. Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest adolescent pregnancy rates, a phenomenon that is largely responsible for the high dropout rate among girls. Girls in Sierra Leone often get married as early as age 11, and more than 60 percent of girls throughout the country are married before the age of 18. Early marriage further hinders these girls’ abilities to pursue an education and gain independence. Shortages of facilities, supplies, and quality instructors have made it virtually impossible for all children to enroll in school, and a preference for boys’ education remains dominant. Girls are often instructed to stay home and perform domestic responsibilities while their brothers head to the classroom.

While education in Sierra Leone still has a long way to go, the progress made so far has been encouraging.

– Shenel Ozisik

Sources: Global Partnership, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, Classbase, CIA
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Learn about poverty in Sierra Leone.

myanmarSince the start of last year, the government of Myanmar has taken significant strides in reforming its education system, particularly the tertiary-level schools.

For decades, Myanmar was under military dictatorship. During these times, the military government spent only 1.3 percent of its entire spending on education. Today, the government spends a significant amount more. For instance, during the fiscal year of 2012-2013, the government of Myanmar spent nearly 11 percent of their total spending of $7.13 billion on education. There have been noticeable changes in the government and prioritizing education has been among them.

One of the biggest changes has been the reopening of Yangon University. For 20 years, the Yangon University in Myanmar had been closed off to undergraduate students because the government has discouraged higher education. However, in 2014, the University was reopened to students. A young group of 1,000 new undergraduates have been selected to attend.

This is a historic, significant move made by the government of Myanmar for several reasons:

  • Myanmar can rebuild the damaged reputation of their tertiary leveled schools. A tertiary leveled school refers to institutions of higher education, while primary and secondary school refers to elementary and middle schools. For decades, Myanmar was under the ruling military junta.
  • Myanmar has the opportunity to engage in higher education with the rest of the world. Already, many significant partnerships have been established through the Ministry of Education. From Asia, Thailand’s Thepsatri Rajabhat University and several South Korean universities have offered partnerships. Even from the West, prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins have also created partnerships. However, one of the more significant investments has been through the Japan International Cooperation, where seven Japanese universities are partnering with a initiative that has cost $13.5 million dollars to work with universities to update and expand engineering knowledge in Myanmar.

These could be seen as business opportunities for those schools who have pushed for education. However, there are many benefits for Yangon University to be affiliated with different universities.

  • The university curriculum will not be completely in military control. The students (and future generations) will have space to create their own thoughts. Through the partnerships, the Myanmar universities will have to create curriculums together with the their new partners who have different ideas to offer.
  • Offering Myanmar students an opportunity to study abroad will expose them to completely different cultures that they never would have imagined while being under tight military laws. Having foreign exchange students visiting Myanmar will also allow for opportunity to exchange ideas and therefore enriching potential discourse.
  • Inviting foreign professors to lecture in their halls will further expose them to different perspectives and most importantly, encourage and foster creativity.
  • Academic freedom is still limited in Myanmar. Students cannot freely speak, write or publish materials without repercussions. Foreign influence will not only benefit the students but also the administrators who run these institutions.

There are high hopes for Myanmar as their education system continues to develop and become in sync with the rest of the world of higher education, which will ultimately change their culture and society.

Christina Cho

Sources: University World News, Education Database, Oxford Business Group
Photo: Google Images

High School in Nicaragua
In order to eliminate poverty, the impoverished must be educated. This is the philosophy practiced by Margaret Gullette, co-founder of the Free High School for Adults in Nicaragua. 12 years ago, Margaret, who resides in Newton, Massachusetts and is a resident scholar at Brandeis University, was volunteering in Nicaragua through the Newton-San Juan del Sur Sister City Project when she and another woman, Rosa Elena Bello, decided they wanted to start a literacy program.

“It’s a great story,” Margaret said as she recalled the details. “Rosa was working in a clinic for women and children, and infant mortality rate was not improving.” The two women believed that it would never improve without literacy. It is not enough just to donate money; the people must be educated.

In Nicaragua, one out of 10 people are illiterate, and this figure is even higher among women. The average Nicaraguan has less than five years of schooling and only 29 percent of children complete primary school. Much of this can be attributed to the poverty cycle. Until 1979 a dictator ruled Nicaragua, and dictators rely on ignorance to control the masses.  “Poverty and ignorance should always be put together,” Margaret explained. Because many adults who lived under that dictator’s rule and did not receive an education themselves, not only do they not have enough money to pay for school supplies and uniforms, but they often do not value education.

In order to begin the literacy program, Margaret applied for funding to 25 different grants. She received 24 rejections, but the one acceptance was all the two women needed. At first it was difficult to get Nicaraguan women involved in the program because their lives revolved around housework and children, but in the first three years nearly 300 women received certificates for the completion of sixth grade.

High school in Nicaragua runs from grade 7 to 11, so after the success with the sixth grade program, the next logical step was to continue the women’s education into high school. Once again Margaret found funding in America, and the following year (2002) a free high school for adults opened. 12 people graduated that year and the number has been growing ever since. The high school currently has 800 students and 616 graduates.

Eventually the Nicaraguan government took over the building of the schools, and the 12 communities that have these high schools have better overall health and fewer unwanted pregnancies. What makes the Free High School Program unique is the teaching model adopted by Margaret and Rosa. The schools use feminist textbooks and a modified version of twentieth century educator Paolo Freire’s teaching method.

Freire believed that education was vital to the liberation of the oppressed and did not support the method of teaching in which students are simply empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. For basic literacy, Freire believed in teaching language that is meaningful to people’s lives. He did not have a program for women, so Margaret and Rosa adapted his method to teach the women in Nicaragua. The first word the women learn is “fetus,” which Margaret says is a word every woman should know.

The Free High School program has continued to grow with a technical high school that opened in 2006 in which students can specialize in one of three fields: Management of Tourist and Hotel Enterprises, Accounting and Civil Construction. A number of graduates from both the Free High School and the Technical School have gone on to receive university degrees and other accomplishments.

Margaret believes that “there is always something to do in Nicaragua,” pointing to her husband David’s bio-sand filter project for contaminated water as an example. The next steps in the Free High School project are to buy new textbooks and construct an office building for the organization in Nicaragua. Go here ( to learn more about the various Newton-San Juan del Sur Sister City projects, including the Free High School.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: San Juan del Sur Sister City Project, Bless the Children, Interview with Margaret Gullette
Photo: The Random Act