Why It Takes a Village to Eradicate Illiteracy

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As the proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. At Worldreader, we often feel like we operate as part of a global village to provide children with all the tools they need to succeed. Our part in this is clear — we provide books and fundamental tools for building literacy and helping children become lifelong readers. We do this in partnership with other organizations, which often provide complementary programs that live alongside ours. These clean water programs, school feeding schemes, and health services make it possible for kids to show up to school consistently, and to absorb what they are learning and reading.

The Kilgoris Project, which has partnered with Worldreader since 2011 to implement an e-reader program at the primary school level, provides a wide range of support services to their students, including nutritious school meals and clean water. The Project also employs a dedicated Student Health Officer and provides regular check-ups, immunizations, deworming, and first aid for students.

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Photo courtesy of Jon McCormack, The Kilgoris Project.

We chatted with Caren McCormack, President and Founder of the Kilgoris Project, on the effects of these programs on student performance.

Building the school was the first step but we quickly realized that wasn’t the whole of it. Hungry kids can’t learn. Kids with chronic diarrhea can’t attend school consistently. Kids who are malnourished don’t have the energy or the brain capacity to put in a full day at school.” Caren notes the physical changes in the students have been striking, children initially coming to school “lethargic and with low energy” and after just 3-6 months, looking “bright-eyed, energetic, full-cheeked, and healthy.

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Photo courtesy of Jon McCormack, The Kilgoris Project.

The research backs up what Caren has seen in The Kilgoris Project’s schools:

  • School meals doubled primary school enrollment in some of the world’s poorest countries in just one year (UNGEI). The World Bank states, “the effect of undernutrition on young children (ages 0-8) can be devastating and enduring. It can impede behavioral and cognitive development, educability, and reproductive health, thereby undermining future work productivity.”
  • Clean water, hygiene education, and sanitation facilities: A partnership called SWASH+ between the Government of Kenya, CARE, Emory University and Water.org led to a six-day average reduction in girls’ annual absenteeism and a reduction in the risk of diarrheal disease (which keeps many students from attending school) by 66%.
  • Deworming: A randomized control trial carried out by Innovations for Poverty Action in Kenya showed that school-based deworming programs can reduce absenteeism by up to 25%. The study also demonstrated that deworming has a significant spillover effect, with younger siblings, who were too young to be dewormed themselves, showing advances in cognitive development equivalent to half a year of school.

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Photo courtesy of Jon McCormack, The Kilgoris Project.

Worldreader is fortunate to work within an ecosystem that is dedicated towards maximizing children’s’ educational potential. Once children are in school Worldreader comes into play, making sure that kids have access to the reading materials they need to succeed. Research shows that making engaging and relevant content available to children yields positive outcomes in terms of reading habits, attitudes towards reading, and early literacy skills. Additional feedback from implementing partners also indicates that e-reader programs increase school enrollment and attendance due to the excitement of the new technology and the books – often in local languages- contained within them.

It is 2014 and it still takes a village to raise a child. But now the village is global, from our implementing partners, to publishers, to donors large and small. We’re thankful to each partner for creating healthy bodies and healthy minds, and for working with us to educate children within book-rich environments, all of which brings us all one step closer towards eradicating illiteracy.