The Importance of Family Reading: Thoughts from the ADEA Triennale
In October, Worldreader participated in the ADEA Triennale, a unique forum dedicated to reimagining education in Africa and discussing the key priorities of foundational learning in light of the impact of COVID-19 on the continent’s education systems. It was an inspiring opportunity to think of the key role family engagement will play in the future of reading. You can find some of our reflections below.
Overcoming the learning crisis: the key role of family reading
We know that reading is the foundation of all learning. Tragically, as UNICEF points out, the world is experiencing a global learning crisis. Today, 64% of 10-year-olds worldwide are unable to read and understand a simple story, with learning poverty rising to 70% in low- and middle-income countries.
When a child reads, they start school ready to learn and develop crucial literacy and social skills that will lead to greater success later in school and life. Caregivers play a key role in supporting their children’s reading journey and family reading can help improve literacy, comprehension, and communication skills, while also helping families start important conversations at home as they bond over books. Plus, children surrounded by a positive home reading environment develop more positive attitudes toward reading in and out of school.
Unfortunately, many caregivers lack the resources they need to effectively support their children’s literacy development. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated challenges and inequality. Left to deal with school closures and remote teaching, families in under-resourced communities had to create a home learning environment that could support their children’s educational needs without the necessary tools and support.
How technology supports family reading
Digital solutions hold extraordinary power to help families and communities foster a culture of reading in which children can thrive. At Worldreader, we help readers in under-resourced communities harness this power by providing high-quality digital reading materials and activities at the touch of a finger. We work with educators, partners, and community influencers to encourage home and school digital reading.
We want every child and family to be able to read anytime, anywhere. The BookSmart reading solution features a wide collection of carefully sourced books that families can access on any device. Engagement is encouraged through messaging, in-app notifications, and activities that support positive reading behaviors. Finally, our school-to-home strategies empower teachers to advocate for home reading and directly encourage parents to develop a daily habit of reading with and to their children.
Providing access to quality reading materials
Booksmart’s full-color, culturally relevant, and curriculum-aligned digital library contains hundreds of books in multiple languages and can be accessed via any internet-connected device. The digital reading solution is available for Android, iOS, and web users, and is optimized for all connection speeds to keep data costs to a minimum. Readers can access books on and offline.
We work with local publishers to digitize their content and introduce them to new markets. These partnerships help ensure content is local, relevant, and at a suitable level, and help build the capacity of publishers to provide accessible, digital content for years to come.
Promoting a culture of family reading in Africa
Worldreader’s approach to promoting family reading includes three core components: direct caregiver engagement, teacher and advocate empowerment, and broad community outreach.
Engaging parents and caregivers
In many communities, family reading isn’t commonplace. Parents and caregivers tend to focus on financial obligations and mandatory school meetings. Worldreader’s initiatives consider the use of behavior change communication, awareness raising, and skill-building activities to foster a community environment where home reading is valued, promoted, and actively encouraged.
Building confidence, promoting digital literacy, and providing easy access to books is key to successful family reading. We work closely with parents by providing training programs and raising awareness of the importance of family reading so that they can improve their reading and digital skills as well as their confidence to read at home.
Parents also receive in-app and WhatsApp reminders. Messages are adjusted to the local community’s reading needs to include academic and social-emotional learning material and adapt frequency and delivery to maximize engagement.
Worldreader’s ABCD approach (App-based access; Books and activities; Continuous engagement; Data to measure and drive impact) supports teachers as they advocate for reading at home.
BookSmart generates daily actionable data about on- and offline reading behaviors. Educators use this data to strengthen school-to-home communication and in-school support, while Worldreader provides successful strategies that school leaders can tailor to their needs, including continuous teacher-parent communication at school and via WhatsApp groups, behavior change campaigns, as well as reading milestones and community celebrations.
Supporting children in their community through digital reading
Readers are drawn to stories they can relate to and that speak to their life experiences in their own language. Working with community-level media, publishers and influencers to provide families with culturally-relevant content is vital to the promotion of home reading.
The need for more local-language books in sub-Saharan Africa can make it challenging to find the right content. This is largely due to limited publishing in certain African languages. There are many barriers that African publishers face including low revenue, insufficient promotion of books in African languages, limited purchasing power and reading habits in some communities, and the scarcity of books in African languages in many local libraries.
Technology has already begun to chip away at these barriers by eliminating costs associated with printing and shipping physical books, allowing local digital publishers to create the publishing environment needed to support local-language education.
Finally, a focus on gender equity and understanding the need to address traditional gender roles are also crucial to facilitate family engagement. In many communities, mothers and women caregivers are more directly involved in home learning support than men. Overcoming gender stereotypes is a deeper issue, but learning opportunities that raise awareness and education in terms of gender equity can help break down social barriers.
The books we curate at Worldreader address critical issues (like violence against women, family planning, and women’s autonomy) but also tell the stories of positive, bold, powerful women and girls who have become changemakers in their communities.
Partnerships are essential
To become successful readers, children need support at the family and community level. And this requires partnerships. Worldreader works with partners closely to provide the tools, training, and resources families need to help children experience the love of reading while developing foundational literacy and life skills. Political goodwill is also key to driving reforms, including education reforms leading to a fair and just society where education is prioritized.
➤ Are you a parent? Download BookSmart for free on your phone or tablet and bond with your kids over stories – offline reading is available so that your family can keep building brighter futures together anytime, anywhere.
➤ Are you an educator? Partner with us and discover how to use innovative, low-cost technology and world-changing reading programs to empower your students at home and in the classroom.
➤ Are you a reading champion? By supporting our work, you’ll power the stories that ignite the imagination of children in Africa and beyond and help unlock a world of opportunities for their future.