write/right to read magazine project: pt 2

16 06 2009

What is the literacy level you are targeting for this magazine project?

The original focus of this project would be to target an audience at earlier stages of literacy so the content would be very simple, short and easy to read.

It may be more appropriate in some communities to have 2 different magazines/newsletters one targeting children and one for adults depending on the needs of the community.

The magazine for adults can raise awareness for the value of education to encourage school participation. The content can contain local issues and promote knowledge sharing.

The magazine targeting children would compose of creative stories and drawings to cultivate a reading and writing culture at an early age.

Where would this project be appropriate?

This project can be implemented in communities in developed or underdeveloped countries  in need of improving literacy and education. The magazine would be customized to suit the literacy level and language of the local people. For example, the content would be more sophisticated in rural communities in the U.S. compared to rural communities in China or Vietnam.


my solution: a magazine for the write/right to read

14 06 2009

Start a free local magazine/newsletter! Encourage students, teachers, locals to write stories and draw pictures promoting education and literacy. This magazine or newsletter will aim at cultivating a reading culture at an early stage in a country that does not see literacy and education as a priority. It will include not only stories written by children or adults, but it will be an engaging channel for information sharing. Because locals are actively participating and engaging in the content of this magazine, it generates a sense of community, gratification, motivation and interest to read it. Through this magazine project, I also hope that it will help parents see the value in putting their children in school and educating them. As students are asked to actively participate in this ongoing project, they will see meaning in their effort and this magazine project will also serve as a learning motivator.

Content of the magazine can include:
-best practices (e.g. farming)
-articles regarding health and wellbeing
-local news
-ideas and stories
-sports and entertainment (e.g. word games, puzzles, etc)

The format and layout of this magazine is meant to be simple, informal and easy to read and understand.  Most of the content will be locally generated but nonprofits and outside parties can contribute information in this magazine to inform the public about other important matters (e.g. health). In promoting literacy and learning in people’s mother tongue, this is also a way to fight diseases such as AIDS by informing the public and raising awareness in health and education issues.

The launch of this project can begin in local schools where teachers ask students to draw pictures and write creative stories. Eventually, parents and locals can participate by submitting their stories for the magazine. This magazine can happen but not without the help and funding from local governments, NGOs and a publishing company to publish and distribute these magazines. Pilot projects can start in poor/rural communities in (developed/underdeveloped) countries with lagging literacy rates.


– lack of motivation/awareness for the value in education and literacy in rural areas


-children and adults in (low-income/rural) communities with low literacy rates

-local government

-NGOs for improving education systems

-publishing company/companies



-funding from government education budget


-To encourage reading and promote the value of education  and literacy through a community magazine project that is engaging

-This magazine project is not only informative and educational but also serves as a channel for knowledge and information sharing

singing…to improve reading?

12 06 2009

I stumbled across an interesting method to improve reading skills.  SINGING!

TUNEin TO READING is a software program that helps children (grades 3 to 12) improve their reading skills through singing!  The learner puts on a headset and microphone, and practices his/her reading while singing.

Why it works?

Singing is an effective way to motivate and engage the struggling reader.  According to testimonials, parents and teachers noticed that as the children’s singing improved, so did their reading.

The University of South Florida did a study in 2005 on whether singing improves reading skills.

Carry-a-Tune™ Version 2.0 (Carry-a-Tune Technologies, www.carryatune.com) was originally developed to improve the singing of children and adults. Carry-a-Tune (CAT) was used in their study to determine its effect on the reading fluency and comprehension of struggling readers. Students read the lyrics while learning to sing. Findings from this study strongly support the use of interactive singing software to increase reading levels of struggling middle school readers.

More about the study: read study

Here is another article by the Child Development Institute about how songs help improve reading: read article

Literacy is not only a problem in underdeveloped countries but also a concern in the developed world.   I think a software program like this is a very novel and interesting approach to improving reading skills. Research have shown that students using an interactive singing software increased the reading level of struggling readers by one to three grades.  If singing really does help improve reading skills, how can we transfer this technique to needy countries with low literacy rates?

classrooms in India and absent teachers

12 06 2009

Boys seated in school near Baroda, Gujarat.

Girls seated in school near Baroda, Gujarat.

These classroom settings are not horrible….but what if I tell you these buildings have no toilets…or even clean drinking water?

The study of 188 government-run primary schools in central and northern India revealed that 59% of the schools had no drinking water facility and 89% no toilets.

Another alarmingly issue is teacher absentism in India. Absent rates are 25%. That is, at any random time, 25% of the teachers are absent from school.  Maharashtra has the best record with a truancy rate of 14.6%, followed by Gujarat (17%) and Madhya Pradesh (17.6%).  The worst offender is Jharkhand (41.9%), followed by Bihar (37.8%) and Punjab (34.4%).Head teachers are in the lead. They are, on average, truant 5% more often than ordinary teachers.

Salaries do not make any significant difference to truancy. Better infrastructure may improve teacher attendance.  A public comment from this article states that another reason for higher absentism/truancy for teachers in India is because many of these teachers that teach in rural areas are from non-rural/urban parts of society.  Due to employment regulations they must teach at government aided schools in rural areas before they can be shifted to urban localities.  Lack of accountability, economic incentives and adjustment problems can lead to truancy. This being said, it’s important to train the trainers to do their job.

  • supportive programs or counseling programs should be in place for teachers
  • stricter performance measurement/evaluation
  • better incentive programs
  • change in government policies to address teacher truancy

Another interesting topic touched by this article is “stigma cost”. If lots of teacher miss school, the stigma cost lowers and it make it seem more acceptable to miss school.   Teacher absentism is not a negligible issue and everything seem to build up on each other.  You can build a school, supply the books and materials, but if the teacher isn’t there or if the teacher, the educator is not well trained, who’s to deliver the education?


Digital Hero Book Project

11 06 2009

Aside from philanthropic approaches to illiteracy, Steve Vosloo at Stanford University developed the Digital Hero Book Project in partnership between REPSSI, the Khanya Project of the Western Cape Education Department and Molotech.

The Digital Hero Book Project is a form of a psychosocial support system that enables youth to post their own stories online using information and communication technologies. This is a fun way for children to collaboratively create illustrated story books featuring stories about heroes which they come up with, while providing them with a platform for dealing with serious issues. The books submitted are digitized and presented online.

By combining digital storytelling with online group collaboration, the project develops literacy, digital media skills and cross-cultural awareness.  The pilot project is taking place in South Africa, Kenya, and the US.


“Hero Books are a form of memory work, a process of setting up a safe space for an individual to tell a story. This process of story telling can take place under a tree or in a community centre, or it can be made tangible by making a map, drawing pictures or writing the story down in a book, like a Hero Book.  Memory work is important in developing self-esteem, helping people take control of their lives, empowering them and allowing them to tell their story in a positive way. It has been used by REPSSI  in sub-Saharan Africa for four years, mostly as a way of providing psychosocial care and support to children affected by HIV/AIDS, poverty and conflict.”

This is a very innovative project even though the impact may not be immediate and can be difficult to measure. Literacy is a way of empowering individuals and by providing a platform for these children to tell their own “heroic” story in a positive way, it gives them a sense of hope and meaning in life.  Storytelling directly support the development of literacy through the practice of speaking and listening skills.  Through the sites where the digital hero stories are posted, authors can engage other “heroes” to share their experiences, affirming one other by recognizing their common challenges and ways of overcoming them.

The Digital Hero Book Project aims to integrate hero booking into the learning activities of IT-enabled schools in Cape Town, South Africa, and other sites around the world, and put paper-based hero books into the digital arena.  The project, currently in its pilot phase, will enable youth in these schools to create digital hero books, and publish them on their main website or on a closed, private community-based Digital Heroes website.

What makes “illiteracy” such a hard challenge to tackle

8 06 2009

Here is an example of a classroom in India – not exactly the kind of classroom setting we’d see in Canada, nor would I consider it a very comfortable learning environment.

In India, there is a 35% illiteracy rate and it is expected to take more than 20 years to bring it down to 5%.

Some reasons why illiteracy is a difficult battle to win:

  • A general lack of motivation among teachers and learners – definitions of literacy have been variable and poorly understood, teaching materials have been lacking, and career development possibilities for teachers have been non-existent.
  • Literacy classes have not been perceived as having something immediate, relevant and direct to offer that would offset the opportunity costs of participation.
  • Conflicting language policies produced a barrier between the formal and non-formal systems of education. In many developing countries, reading and writing in adult literacy classes are often taught in indigenous languages, whereas formal primary schooling has used the official or cosmopolitan language (often that of the former colonial power).
  • Literacy statistics and the outcomes of literacy programs are questionable. They are often measured only in terms of the numbers of those who have participated in the programs.

Market economy principles require more decentralization and more cost-sharing in education; hence, governments in developing countries are turning to innovative partnerships and collaboration with NGOs. Their aim is to launch literacy and non-formal education programs that can teach more basic learning skills in less time and at less cost than conventional schooling. (unesco.org)

Reducing the burden on the status of women in the developing world are one of the areas of concern for tackling illiteracy. Improving literacy aids in redressing the gender imbalance. Literacy offer a variety of practical solutions for the empowerment of women and are built around income-generating activities and productive employment, credit management skills, good parenting and child-rearing practices. “Many curriculum development innovations in literacy programs involve the use of gender-sensitive materials in nutrition, primary health, home economics and HIV-Aids education” (unesco.org).
Though literacy has been inching to the top of the agenda in many developing countries,  its priority needs to be recognized in the development plans of governments, national partners, NGOs, the private sector, and international agencies, along with greater investment and co-operation

Scholarship Project

8 06 2009

A student who is part of the scholarship program introduced by World Literacy of Canada

Money isn’t everything but  life does get a little easier with it.

One way World Literacy of Canada approached the problem of world illiteracy is through a  Scholarship Project to support school-going children of all ages.

World Literacy of Canada is a non-profit voluntary organization that promotes international development and social justice. World Literacy of Canada supports community-based programs that emphasize adult literacy and non-formal education for both children and adults.

The children who participate in this project live in the slums of Varanasi, India, come from poor families who lack the resources to invest in their children’s education.  Through a World Literacy of Canada scholarship the cost of their school fees, uniforms, books and other school supplies is covered.  This allows these bright children who want to be educated, to attend quality schools, and reduces the likelihood of  their families withdrawing them from school in times of financial difficulty.

Because most of these children have parents who are poorly educated, or often even completely illiterate, they have no one to help them with their school work at home.  World Literacy of Canada provides special after-school tutoring programs to all their scholarship children, where they can receive extra help in everything from the alphabet to algebra and continue to excel in school.

World Literacy of Canada’s scholarship program changes lives, and opens opportunities  for these children to have a better future.

For just $300 per year, you can help World Literacy of Canada offer a child an education and the hope of a better future.   Find out how you can help too: http://www.worldlit.ca/scholarship

Wouldn’t it be nice if all social problems can be resolved with money? I think this is a great initiative to help children that come from poor families but this initiative only alleviates part of the problem.  This sort of scholarship program helps children from certain parts of this world i.e. emerging/developing countries that has the education system, the infrastructure and the minimal existing resources (i.e. teachers)…but what about the children and adults from countries that lack even these?  What about illiterate adults? What can we do to help educate parents? Children are our future but what sort of approach should we take to help illiterate adults?

Can we duplicate this type of program for marginalized/disadvantaged/disenfranchised families in developed countries, too? Would donors be as willing to help if the children this program was trying to help are living in developed countries?   All these questions!!!!

In my opinion, I think the fact that this program is helping children from India entices people to help. If the program were to help kids from poor families in the U.S. or Canada, people may be less likely to support.  Why? Perhaps it’s the notion that it should be the parent’s responsibility in that case.  People are more likely to sympathize for families in poor countries because they “seem” more helpless (?)  Nevertheless, illiteracy is not only a problem in underdeveloped or developing countries but also in developed countries.  I’d be interested to see what sort of results this scholarship program would yield if implemented in the U.S. or Canada.