E-Readers Help Combat Illiteracy


worldreader2The United Nations estimates that roughly 774 million people worldwide are illiterate, including nearly 123 million children. To address this, reading programs are desperately needed in schools. One of the major problems that schoolchildren throughout the Global South face is a severe lack of access to books. These are the issues at the heart of Worldreader’s programs.

Worldreader is a non-profit based in the United States that aims to eradicate illiteracy through a two-pronged approach. Their two projects embrace technology and digital reading materials, which are easily accessible for many people living throughout the global South. The first project, Worldreader Program, focuses on distributed e-readers to schools in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The second project, Worldreader Mobile, is an application for cellphones that allows users to download free reading materials from anywhere in the world.

David Risher, a former Amazon.com executive, spearheaded Worldreader after traveling through Ecuador, where he learned that children did not have access to books while in school. After realizing that such a serious problem could be tackled in an innovative way, he began forming partnerships to bring books to children who wanted to read.

The focus on digital reading materials is heavily influenced by their lower cost. By downloading e-books, there is also no additional shipping costs, which means that operating budgets can remain lower. However, there are some issues with focusing on digital materials, as there are not always electrical sources for charging the devices, and cellphone and wifi networks are not always available. There have also been some issues with providing material in local languages and insuring that the proper textbooks used in specific classrooms are available.

worldreader1Despite these challenges, both programs have been successful. As of February 2014, close to one million e-books, through Amazon Kindles, have been provided to roughly 13,500 school children in countries where the Worldreader Program operates. Kindles have been very effective, as they are designed with functions to assist people who are learning how to read, such as large print, pronunciation of words, and built-in dictionaries.

The Worldreader Mobile application, which was developed in-partner with biNu in Australia, has been used by roughly 355,000 people worldwide, with the most users located in India, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Twelve hundred free books are available through the application, and can be downloaded on feature phones, as well as smartphones. This is important, as many people throughout the Global South only have access to feature phones, which operate on 2G networks. Through their phones, users can access local publications, international classics, storybooks, textbooks, and health information, all for free.

Worldreader applies for funding to help subsidize the cost of e-readers, and some of their partners provide accessories, such as cases and reading lights, for free. Many of the e-books are provided for free through partnerships with publishers and through funding that is received. Worldreader pays only $0.50 per book, so beneficiaries do not have to pay. They are also partnering with African publishing companies to help provide reading material in local languages where projects are carried out.

For more information about Worldreader, check out their website.



Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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