Below are two blog posts I wrote as a Freelance Writer for the World Literacy Foundation, both addressing the role technology can play in improving literacy rates in the developing world.
Technology's Literacy-Enabling Potential
Digital technology has completely rewired the world. It has changed the way we communicate, opened doors to oceans of knowledge, and disrupted the way we learn. At the heart of this is opportunity. Technology has the power to transcend economic barriers and enable literacy in every corner of the globe.
As technology scales rapidly across developing nations, there is unprecedented opportunity to relegate illiteracy as a thing of the past.
The climb of mobile penetration rates in the sub-Saharan African region has been charted by the Pew Research Center. The numbers are loud and clear: in 2002, only 2% of Ghanians said they owned a mobile phone. Compare this with 2014, where this exploded to 83%.
The study found that overwhelmingly, cell phones are used for texting and so, people are impelled by technology to develop reading and writing skills in order to communicate through mobile. Particularly for young people, who are often naturally disposed to adopt new technologies, these are promising signs for literacy levels.
Mobile devices are also a promising way of drawing people to read. In 2014, UNESCO surveyed over 4000 people in seven African nations on mobile reading. Some of the key findings are glowing:
- Mobile reading extends literacy to marginalized groups, where access to hard-copy books have always been limited.
- Mobile devices are used to read to children, facilitating literacy development in young people.
- When using mobile to read, people generally enjoy the experience and subsequently read more.
This is an era where technology is fast becoming a vehicle for change in developing nations. Of course, solving illiteracy is not as simple as putting devices into hands. There are a myriad of challenges, including power, connectivity, geographical reach, content and cost. The ways innovators in the education technology sphere approach these issues will be imperative to pressing the jaws of illiteracy shut.
Bright future for education in developing nations
The future for education in developing nations is illuminated by digital technologies, a study has found.
At Biwi Primary School in Lilongwe, Malawi, the youngest students have soaring ambitions. But they are thrust into a dreary learning environment: one punctuated by stretched classrooms, scarce resources and inconsistent teaching quality.
So The University of Nottingham’s Dr Nicola Pitchford proposed a simple solution: tablets.
Her 2014 study, involving over four hundred early-primary students at Biwi Primary School has revealed the significant gains mobile technologies can present for the educational landscape in developing nations.
Across just eight weeks, the study found students using the tablet saw significantly improved mathematical attainment, with some tripling their maths curriculum knowledge. The tablet was more effective in accelerating learning than existing teaching practices.
Notably, the tablet was even effective in raising the performance of low achievers: 78% of low achievers improved their mathematical ability to an average range after using the tablet, compared to only 17% of children who were receiving standard classroom instruction.
The study is powerful affirmation for pioneers of mobile-based education.
Digital technologies hold largely untapped potential for both teachers and students, and the World Literacy Foundation is mobilizing this for classrooms around the world. Find out more here.