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Improve Reading For Climate Refugees in the South Pacific

Create a mobile app and an online library to teach reading in local languages in the South Pacific, while promoting youth employment.

Photo of Isabelle Duston
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Improving literacy is what we want to accomplish in the South Pacific. Based on reading assessments, children are not fluent readers and there is a lack of books available in mother tongues. Due to global warming, children and families are starting to emigrate from their home islands. Providing a mother tongue literacy app and an online library enables climate refugees, boys and girls, to learn to read in their mother tongue and communities to share resources and preserve their culture.

Explain your innovation.

Children should learn to read in their mother tongue, and then have culturally relevant reading material. iLearn4Fun desires to develop its MoToLi—mother tongue literacy—application in Pacific Island languages for Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands. The app’s pedagogy is based on reading research and is designed to bring children to fluency by systematically teaching the building blocks of reading as measured by EGRA, considered the gold standard for testing. MoToLi is an award-winning application, current semi-finalist for the Global Learning XPRIZE competition. We also want children to be able to have reading material that preserves their culture easily available to their community, parents, and teachers. That is why we desire to develop a mother tongue online library of culturally relevant books translated by native language speakers into various Pacific Island languages. We do not want to stop there, though. We want to engage the youth by creating employment opportunity through literacy clubs, which would take place after school and provide remedial services to children who are struggling with learning to read or to stay engaged in the learning process.

Who benefits?

Children who are displaced by climate change or other weather-related emergencies will benefit from the app and online library. Girls will be able to learn to read in their mother tongue and will have access to their unique culture no matter where across the globe they end up. But we do not want to limit our reach solely to these children. All children in Pacific Islands can and should benefit from easily accessible reading material. Furthermore, teachers, parents, and communities at large will benefit in that they can share resources and preserve their unique culture. The youth will also benefit from this intervention, because they will get the opportunity to create a revenue generating activity, while improving their self confidence and employability for other arising opportunities.

How is your innovation unique?

While mobile learning is indeed gaining traction, our innovation lies in the unique combination of not only a pedagogically sound app that teaches children to read in their mother tongue, but also an online library that would give a far-reaching number of boys and girls access to culturally relevant and community-sourced reading materials. Our innovation is also unique in that the method used to deploy and scale the usage of the app would generate an employment opportunity for youth. Children need encouragement to use the app, as well as the support from an adult when they encounter challenges while acquiring new skills. Our vision includes organizing after-school programs (Literacy/Reading clubs), which would be led by young people. The youth would act as literacy club leaders and use MoToLi and its library as a remedial tool. This activity could generate an income for youth, which will motivate them to get as many children as possible involved in these after-school programs.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We have been working on MoToLi for 7 years, improving its design based on users' and researchers' feedback. We now feel confident that our pedagogical approach is sound and robust. What we really want to improve now is the deployment and scaling process. In the South Pacific, countries’ internet is often lacking, so we have to find a way for parents and teachers to know about the app and access it. The setting in remote islands is comparable to infracstructure available in emergency situation, Children also need to stay engaged, and we are looking for ways to involve the community by creating literacy clubs. By combining an education program and a youth employment program, we want to see whether we could improve the impact of MoToLi.

Tell us more about you.

iLearn4Fun is a non-profit organization, lead by Isabelle Duston, whose mission is to provide educational opportunities for the world’s poorest people. By harnessing the power of technology, iLearn4Fun intends to improve the learning outcomes and have a real impact on the future of the learners and their communities. We have been involved in the Pacific region for over a year, where we have identified needs and build strong connection with the Ministries, NGOs, and local community leaders.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought
  • Other (please specify in next question)

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

The emergency situations the Pacific Islands has faced include water and flooding emergencies. As people leave their home islands, being displaced as climate refugees should not result in a loss of mother tongue literacy or of culture. Our mother tongue literacy app allows children and communities to preserve their mother tongue and cultural heritage amidst environmental migration. Our primary implementation setting will be Kiribati, where global warming is already affecting the communities.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Our innovation will be implemented in the South Pacific nations: Kiribati, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands. The first field pilot would be most likely in Kiribati, because it is the country facing the strongest challenge because of global warming, and is frequently subject to flood. The government of Kiribati has already bought some land in Fiji, where its citizens could find immigrate, when the whole country is in danger.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Through Early Grade Reading Assessment projects, we have built connections with the Ministry of Education of Kiribati, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. We are also working with regional organizations such as the South the Pacific Community (SPC), UNICEF, ChildFund and university researchers form the University of the South Pacific (USP).

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

We have the expertise and experience necessary to see this endeavor through all stages of development. Performing Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRAs) throughout the South Pacific has given Isabelle and her team firsthand insight into the local needs and opportunities. MoToLi is an award-winning app that has been developed in four languages (English, French, Swahili, and Khmer). Isabelle and her team cumulatively have over 50 years of experience in international development education.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Our headquarter is Lynchburg, Virginia - USA, however the organizations with whom we would partner are based in the South Pacific.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

The encouragements we received from scholars and people involved in literacy in the South Pacific has been excellent. Other groups are involved in similar or complementary projects, and we are currently discussing how we could collaborate. These discussions include USP (Fiji and Vanuatu), Library for all, the KIEP program in Kiribati, and Child Fund, who is running a youth employment program also in Kiribati. These discussions are shaping the way we are reframing our project.

Who will implement this Idea?

There are different aspects in the project—while Isabelle Duston would take the lead in managing this project, other parties would play their part: Library for All and USP for the online library, the MoE of Kiribati for the curriculum, ChildFund for the youth employment part, and Et4d for the actual customization of the app. Isabelle Duston is currently working in the South Pacific, where she in leading a reading assessment project for a World Bank project (PEARL). She has developed an impressive network and solid connections with the local organizations, who would be playing a leading role

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Our program involves two types of end-users: the children who need to learn how to read and the youth who need to find a revenue-generating activity. Each group faces its own sets of challenges. Children, and particularly boys, have a hard time staying engaged in the learning process. The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) showed very low achievement for boys, with a high level of dyslexia. The interactive features of MoToLi will keep them engaged. The biggest challenge for the youth in the South Pacific is unemployment, even among educated young adults. However, when given the opportunity to generate revenue, they are highly motivated and demonstrate a high level of dedication. They are also very concerned about the future of their community and are willing to help others.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Our business model is based on the premise that Education Technology for Development (Et4d), a consulting firm, has revenue generation activities, among which are early grade reading evaluations (EGRAs), while iLearn4Fun is a non-profit organization that benefits from the revenues generated by Et4d and promotes the use of technology to improve education in developing nations. Employees of Et4d provide support to iLean4Fun, and volunteer some of their time to improve the lives of the communities in which they work.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

By 2021, we expect that MoToLi will have been developed in at least 15 languages across several nations in the Pacific region and some parts of West Africa. In order to achieve this vision, we will need to refine a deployment model, which could be based a revenue generator for the youth. To achieve this, we will need the support of the local ministries of education and local organizations involved in youth employment.

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

The improvement of the reading outcome will be measured through a simplified version of the EGRA test, which will be used by the leaders of the literacy clubs or teachers. The improvement in employment of the youth will be measured by the number of existing clubs, and revenue generated by these activities.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Year 1: - Creation of MoToLi in Kiribati - Design of a plan for the organization of literacy clubs - Identify potential partners in 2 South Pacific countries Year 2: - Creation of MoToLi in 2 new languages - Refinement of the organization of literacy clubs in Kiribati - Design of the organization of literacy clubs in 2 new countries Year 3: - Creation of the app in 5 other languages, which could include West Africa - Design of the organization of literacy clubs in new countries

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $50,000 and $100,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Under 5 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • More than 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Organizational Design


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