Global IlliteracyThe impact of technology in the fight against global poverty is a subject of both positive and negative consequences. Nevertheless, numerous groups are harnessing the power of technology to drive progress toward the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. A prominent illustration is the utilization of smartphones to address global illiteracy. Curious Learning, an organization committed to promoting literacy through smartphones, is making noteworthy advancements in alleviating poverty for future generations.

The Importance of Literacy in Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Literacy serves as a crucial foundation for every aspect of a child’s life. As defined by UNESCO, literacy encompasses the ability to read, write, and interpret information, enabling children to understand the world around them and become educated individuals. Despite the progress so far, the World Literacy Foundation reports that there are still 750 million illiterate adults worldwide.

The link between global illiteracy and poverty operates in two directions. Poverty hampers children’s access to education and the resources needed to develop reading and writing skills. Challenges such as unaffordable school fees, early labor requirements or living in remote areas far from educational institutions hinder opportunities, particularly for children in rural areas of developing countries, leading to high rates of school absenteeism.

Conversely, the lack of literacy limits economic opportunities and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. UNESCO emphasizes that if all adults completed secondary education, 420 million individuals could escape poverty. Access to education equips individuals with literacy skills that open doors to better employment prospects and higher earnings. According to Curious Learning, each new level of literacy is associated with a 9.7% increase in earnings. The interplay between literacy and poverty creates a vicious cycle that persists across generations unless effectively addressed.

Curious Learning’s Fight Against Global Illiteracy

Curious Learning is at the forefront of efforts against poverty by tackling the issue of global illiteracy. The organization’s mission is to provide children worldwide with the necessary access to learn how to read. What sets Curious Learning apart is its unique approach. The organization localizes free reading apps in 69 languages and distributes them in countries like Nepal, India and Kenya. With more than 75 dedicated apps aimed at developing reading skills and reducing global illiteracy in children, Curious Learning has achieved global outreach.

As of 2021, Curious Learning has extended its reach to every country across the globe, with a specific focus on developing nations. South Asia, West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are regions characterized by alarmingly high illiteracy rates. Therefore, Curious Learning’s interventions are strategically concentrated in countries within these areas of greatest need. For instance, its work began with interventions in Ethiopia in 2011, followed by a World Bank study on literacy apps in Northern Nigeria in 2022. Both countries face significant illiteracy challenges, with rates of 50.9% and 40.4%, respectively, placing them among the top 20 countries with the highest illiteracy rates globally.

In line with technological advancements, digital literacy has been incorporated into the definition of literacy by UNESCO and other organizations. By introducing underserved children to reading through digital apps, Curious Learning addresses both reading skills and technological proficiency simultaneously, equipping children for success in the digital age.

The Apps

All of the apps that Curious Learning localizes and distributes are free to use, and this ensures accessibility. Here are a few of the organization’s apps that are making learning to read fun and engaging:

  • Feed The Monster: This game helps children learn letter names and sounds while collecting cute monsters as pets. It is available in over 50 languages, including Arabic, Ukrainian and Oluganda. The game is distributed in more than 50 languages including Arabic, Ukrainian and Oluganda.
  • Read With Akili- What Do You Like To Do?: Based on the children’s cartoon by the name of “Akili and Me”, this app is a learning program made for children in Africa. Children follow Akili, a 4-year-old from Tanzania and learn to read with three different levels of interactive content.
  • Chimple: Chimple encourages “self-directed early learning”.  The app is designed to take children from zero to basic literacy and numeracy.

The Impact

Curious Learning’s efforts proved successful in fighting illiteracy in developing countries. In a study done in collaboration with The World Bank and Middlesex University, published on August 3, 2022, Curious Learning tested the effectiveness of its apps in Northern Nigeria. Of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria has the most children unenrolled in schools at 10.5 million.

Households received a smartphone complete with the reading apps, Feed the Monster and the Global Digital Library and the researchers followed one child, ages 6 to 9 years old, from each family. The researchers implemented the apps along with aspirational videos as interventions for these children. Results of the interventions showed that children who received the interventions scored 42.5% fewer zeros on letter recognition.

The apps improved children’s literacy skills by 0.46 standard deviations and numeracy skills by 0.63 standard deviations. The intervention accomplished similar outcomes in twelve months as outcomes that took a whole five years of instruction in schools.

Curious Learning is committed to providing accessible and effective interventions to combat global illiteracy. Based on the organization’s statement on 2023 plans and goals, it plans to launch a global literacy league of people in various countries working to distribute literacy apps. It also aims to expand the scale of its programs in 30 countries with the highest numbers of illiteracy.

Smartphones and apps, like those developed by Curious Learning, have become powerful tools for breaking the cycle of global illiteracy and poverty. By providing accessible and engaging interventions, Curious Learning is making a significant impact on the lives of underserved children worldwide.

– Yesenia Aguilera
Photo: Unsplash