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Library For All: An interactive, educational Library for the developing world.

Imagine learning to read and write in a language that you do not yet know how to speak? This is the situation for millions of students around the world who are not being taught to read and write in their mother-tongue language because locally relevant content is hard to find or too expensive. At Library For All, we envision a world without such barriers to knowledge. We have built a digital platform that works in low-bandwidth environments, making a vast library of culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate content available on any device accessible to children and parents in developing countries.

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Overview of Our Idea
While many organizations are interested in the concept of educational games or other "edutainment" content, we are interested in providing a broader model for interactivity outside of the classroom. Games, reading assessments, adaptive teaching materials, and even parent-guided interactivity will help teachers and parents provide an engaging educational experience for primary school students. All of these technologies exist in the developed world, but are inaccessible to children living in poverty in developing countries due to challenges at each step of the delivery system: expensive hardware, lack of bandwidth, and inability to purchase software. In addition, the content is often in the wrong language, and not adapted to the local culture.

Our organization’s goal is to improve literacy across the developing world. Yet it's not enough to provide more reading resources; we need to know what is working and what isn’t. This requires assessing student progress without interrupting the learning process. We are interested in creating short assessments that test children as they read. In addition, having resources in local languages that engage the student in the form of games, interactive stories, choose-your-own-adventure, etc. would keep children interested in reading long after school. 

All of this could be made possible by leveraging the incredible open source tools for web app development. Web apps do not require an internet connection anymore - they can be self-contained packages, designed to run on anything with a web browser. 

At the moment, our platform only supports a one-way interaction, delivering books from author to child. However, we know that interactive media can play a large role in improving literacy. We propose adding two key innovations to our platform that are proven to increase language learning: built-in reading assessments that test comprehension as students read, and an interactive educational game platform. By adapting current educational games and other interactive tools to local languages in developing countries (beginning in Haiti), we aim to increase engagement in reading and writing for primary school students across the devleoping world. There are already many tools for creating digital interactive educational resources, but there is a need to adapt them for building offline experiences on low-cost devices. Through the use of web technologies that are available offline, we can adapt these tools to work on a variety of platforms including low-cost tablets, mobile phones and PCs.

Current Situation
Currently, only approximately 50% of Haitians are literate, due in large part to the fact that they are forced to learn to read and write in French, rather than their native language, Haitian Creole. In recent years, thanks in large part to international efforts, many schools and teachers have realized the advantages to teaching in Haitian Creole, but lack the resources to do so. The resources are either hard to find, too expensive, or simply don’t exist.

Our Goal
We aim to gather all quality early-learning resources in Haitian Creole into our Library, translate and create resources that are lacking, and make this Library available to schools across Haiti. Through our distribution network of NGOs, government agencies and partner schools, we aim to reach hundreds of thousands of students across Haiti. By leveraging existing mobile infrastructure and targeting low cost devices we will also make our app available to underserved individuals and communities. Our goal is to reach 5 million children in the next 5 years, giving a new generation of children the opportunity to learn, dream and aspire to lift themselves out of poverty.

The built-in reading assessment feature of our platform will have the advantage of not only monitoring usage, but also reporting individual students’ progress to teachers, and reporting progress in aggregate form back to our organization through the Library platform. In this way, and through working closely with a pilot school, we can measure improvement in reading comprehension in real time, providing unprecedented insight into how young students learn in the developing world. We aim to use this information to continue improving our platform and content, as well as share our insight with partners and the development community to strengthen support of the entire school system.

By adding reading assessment and interactive games to our Library platform, we aim to improve student reading scores through two key methods: evaluation and engagement. Providing built-in reading assessment will allow teachers and school leaders to evaluate their students’ abilities and track progress in reading comprehension. This valuable information can help them teach more effectively by grouping students according to needs, covering topics that students need help with, challenging students who are reading ahead of their level, and providing extra attention to those who are falling behind. By measuring progress, our organization can also track our impact on student learning and focus on content that delivers results.

Through the interactive platform, we aim to engage students in a learning process that is fun and exciting. In a context where many students are accustomed to learning through rote memorization, and have few of the distractions their peers in developed nations are used to, we see great potential to improve skills in reading, spelling, mathematics, and more through an interactive learning experience. For example, several of our education advisors are eager to adapt simple games for young students, such as matching names and images of shapes. Basic games like this are proven to accelerate learning, and could be easily adapted for a tablet and translated into local languages. With a new interactive platform, our Library could distribute these kinds of games to millions of students.
Since we are already implementing our Library across Haiti and have just launched in Democratic Republic of Congo with plans to scale up in other developing countries including Rwanda in the next year, we know that these tools will have a wide opportunity for impact.

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

Our users will be the young students, teachers in schools and community centers and parents across the developing world who directly benefit from using the Library For All app. We define this population as individuals living on less than $2 per day who have little or no access to local books, games or educational materials.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

1. Rapid Prototyping by our team - Our team will begin by going through a rapid prototyping session that will allows us to test our idea of adding interactive elements to our platform. As a team, we would brainstorm all of the ways in which these games and interactive features could feasibly be added to our platform. We would then select the ideas we all like the best, and elaborate on them. Finally, we would bring in a sample user (a young child) to test our ideas as we assessed the child’s level of engagement, interest and excitement. 2. Testing at NYC Schools - Our second step could be to test our assumptions at schools locally in NYC. We could bring devices preloaded with interactive content to various classrooms throughout the city and gauge interest and engagement levels while measuring in a very basic way how access to these games impacts the students’ experience reading and learning. 3. Preload apps onto devices - Our next step could be to take a few games that already exist, preload these games onto some kind of low-cost tablet device, and bring that device with us to Haiti to test the games with a handful of students. This would allow us to test interest among our users without having to invest at all in the build of our own platform.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

To make great educational materials, we will need great content creators. Our proposal is to build a platform and toolset for creating interactive educational content, and engaging with local content creators - authors, teachers, translators, researchers, even other students - to make content that is relevant to the community. Several of our education advisors are eager to adapt simple games for young students, such as matching names and images of shapes. Basic games like this are proven to accelerate learning, and could be easily adapted for a tablet and translated into local languages. With a new interactive platform, our Library could distribute these kinds of games to millions of students. We would also need help with our monitoring and evaluation of the program. We plan to monitor and evaluate the project throughout each of the three major parts: 1) building the technology platform, 2) sourcing locally appropriate content, and 3) piloting and implementing in schools. Our staff can review progress and address challenges but we will need someone who can help us interpret our findings and translate the data we collect to deliver measurable results,.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.

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