Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) aims to “ensure inclusive, equitable and quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Among its several core targets are universal youth literacy, early childhood development, universal pre-primary, primary and secondary education, and education for sustainable development and global citizenship. To reach SDG 4, unequal access to and quality of education must be fixed, and effective and inclusive learning environments must be created. It also requires supporting teachers, educators, and families as they facilitate learning.
Tackling the Global Learning Crisis: The Transformational Power of Reading
Reading is the foundation of all learning. Providing young learners with quality and equitable opportunities to read, improves their educational outcomes, emotional intelligence, and earning opportunities. Children who read regularly are more likely to go on to become successful, fulfilled adults, with benefits rippling across communities and generations. Reading promotes inclusion as well as gender equity, and girls who read benefit from easier access to health and financial resources and are less likely to become child brides or teenage mothers. Finally, literacy has been linked to more active political participation, and parents who can read raise healthier, better-educated kids.
And yet today, 64% of ten-year-olds globally cannot read and understand a simple story, meaning that the majority of the world’s children are in learning poverty. In Sub-Saharan Africa, learning poverty rises to 87%. It’s a global learning crisis that puts our shared future and the human potential of entire generations, at risk.
Worldreader gets children reading so they can reach their full potential. The global nonprofit organization harnesses the power of affordable and scalable digital solutions to bring reading to the under-resourced children who need it most and motivates children and caregivers to read at least 25 books a year with understanding. Since 2010, Worldreader has worked with partners to reach more than 21 million readers, supporting educators, families, and institutions with culturally relevant, curriculum-aligned reading resources and material, evidence-based programming, behavior change messaging, and continuous support. Worldreader’s approach is foundational and generational, creating and strengthening the essential skills that lead to improved educational outcomes together with a legacy of lifelong learning and global citizenship.
Parental Engagement is Key to Getting Children Reading and Achieving SDG 4
The learning crisis predates the pandemic which only exacerbated existing inequalities. COVID-19 highlighted the digital divide and catalyzed the urgent global demand for equitable technological solutions that can foster education resilience and drive child engagement. However, the pandemic also showed that children can continue learning successfully in and out of school, and that parental engagement is crucial to the success of a child’s learning journey.
We know that starting readers young is key and promotes cognitive, social-emotional, and linguistic development. Family really is a young reader’s first teacher, and it’s now universally accepted that investing in a child’s early years has the highest return on investment. But in many regions, including East Africa, too many families lack access to technology and quality learning material to support their children’s reading. Moreover, many parents and caregivers – who can be very young themselves – lack confidence in their own reading and digital skills to be able to regularly read at home with their children.
These challenges call for urgent, scalable solutions in order to promote parental engagement and support systems that empower caregivers and educators in East Africa and around the world. Getting and keeping children reading regularly is foundational to achieving SDG 4 while supporting national development priorities.
Worldreader’s Focus and Approach
To overcome these challenges and tackle the learning crisis, Worldreader developed its ABCDE framework, which responds to reading quality and access issues and improves outcomes across SDG 4 targets.
Worldreader’s innovative programming leverages mobile technology and digital reading to reach children aged 3-12 and their caregivers at scale. The BookSmart reading app facilitates school and home learning with storybooks, engaging learning material, parent tips, and fun learning activities that build reading skills and social-emotional learning for the whole family. Its content is carefully curated to promote readers’ confidence and emotional intelligence, reading comprehension, and digital literacy.
Building on over ten years of experience developing digital reading apps for under-resourced, low-connectivity environments, BookSmart was designed to be freely available online and offline – anytime, anywhere, and on any device, including smartphones, feature phones, tablets, Chromebooks, and more.
East Africa has made it a top priority to use ICTs as a key driver of development, and it is improving its infrastructure to help people switch to digital solutions. Mobile technology is commonplace, and tomorrow’s children will be further exposed to these technologies. It is imperative that we leverage this change for improved parental engagement, school preparedness, childhood holistic development, and learning gains so that we can empower readers to build a better world for all.
- As Regional Director, Worldreader East Africa, Joan Mwachi-Amolo leads a small team with oversight across the East and Southern Africa Region. Joan is an experienced educator, having started her career in the classroom setting, progressing on to designing and implementing programs and capacity-building initiatives around non-formal school systems in impoverished communities. She has been instrumentally involved in start-up organizations in the Education Sector supporting the adoption of digital resources. An Ashoka Visionary Programme Alumni, she is currently involved in efforts to scale digital reading as a tool to attain the SDGs.
Joan represents ADEA/Worldreader on a key committee of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter, she received a Bachelor of Education degree and a Master in Education Administration degree, both from Kenyatta University.
About the African Perspectives Series
The African Perspective Series was launched at the 2022 Nigeria International Book Fair with the first set of commissioned papers written and presented by authors of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter. The objective of African Perspectives is to have African authors contribute to the global conversation around development challenges afflicting the African continent and to publish these important papers in the SDG Book Club blog hosted in the Stories section of the UN Namibia site. In this way, our authors’ ideas about the way forward for African development, can reach the widest possible interested audience.