Digital Reading | November 22, 2022

Why We Must Get Children Reading Now


Reading empowers children to reach their potential and benefits entire communities. And with the world in the midst of a global learning crisis, getting children reading today is more crucial than ever. To give younger generations a chance to thrive, we must get children reading now.


Mother reads to her child from tablet

Readers build a better world. We know that a child who reads has a chance at better educational outcomes, stronger emotional intelligence, and higher earning potential.

Children who read stay longer in school and boost their critical thinking and social-emotional skills, improving their ability to empathize, communicate and work with others. They also have greater earning potential, earning 30 to 42% more than their illiterate counterparts. And the positive impact doesn’t stop at the individual level. Reading is a superpower that can help communities, nations, and even our planet thrive.

But the global learning crisis is putting our future at risk. We must act now if we want to make sure that younger generations can reap the benefits of reading.

Reading powers the future

The positive effects of reading stay with us throughout our lives. The stories that shaped us and the crucial skills we developed through reading in our early years continue to guide us in the classroom, at work, and in the community. They inform the way we see the world.

Reading is also a gift that we continue sharing with others. From equality to employment, from civic engagement to health, a community of readers is a community that thrives.

How reading improves lives

Reading is a foundational skill. Get a child to read, and you’ll set them up for success later on in school and life, helping them reach their potential. An early love of reading in school is linked to lower dropout rates and better career opportunities, with even greater positive effects on girls and women.

When we look at the way readers see the world, we find that they often want to make it a better place for everyone – boys who read are more likely to condemn gender-based violence and support equality, and we’ve seen children who read diverse stories become champions for inclusion.

Plus, research shows that reading can make us healthier by lowering stress, protecting memory and brain function, and even reducing child mortality rates.

The power of reading is everywhere

Since we started working to get under-resourced children reading in 2010, we’ve seen the future-building power of reading at work time and again.

In Sierra Leone, for example, reading is inspiring schoolchildren to protect the planet. After reading the book Mary Plants a Tree in class, these students went outside to plant new trees and help “keep the weather cool.”

Meanwhile, Ghana’s radio book club for and by children is making waves as local young readers broadcast the joy of reading across the community. And in areas of India where regular school isn’t an option during the day, colorful digital books ignite students’ imagination at night and help them dream bigger and bolder.

Two girls sit and read outdoors from a  Worldreader tablet

The learning crisis threatens our future

Tragically, we’re in the midst of a global learning crisis. Today, 64% of 10-year-olds worldwide are unable to read and understand a simple story, meaning that they’re in learning poverty. In many areas of Latin America, South Asia, and more of the Global South, learning poverty is as high as 80%.

In an urgent call to address the learning crisis, UNICEF reported that less than three-quarters of children aged 3–5 are developmentally on track, while three-quarters of young people in 92 countries are off-track to acquire the skills needed for employment.

“An inspired, skilled generation of children and young people is critical for prosperity, progression, and the success of societies and economies […] Investment in cost-effective, proven solutions to fast-track learning and skills development for today’s generation and future generations is urgently needed to address this crisis.”

UNICEF Director of Education Robert Jenkins

The cost of the global learning crisis

Lack of foundational reading has a domino effect that undermines sustainable growth and exacerbates poverty and inequality. Failing to address learning poverty negatively affects a country’s employment rates, civic engagement, and economic competitiveness. And because skill development is a cumulative process, the longer we wait, the harder (and more expensive) it gets to fix things.

A UK study estimates that failure to address literacy and reading in primary school years can cost a country up to £64,000 per individual over a lifetime. That’s a total of £198 million to £2.5 billion every year. The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy found that in the US, low adult literacy rates could be costing the economy up to 2.2 trillion dollars a year (10% of the GDP.)

Reading is the key to ending learning poverty, and a major solution in our fight against global poverty. According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, meaning a 12% cut in global poverty.

If we don’t prioritize reading, we can’t build the foundations for a more just and equitable world. If young generations don’t have opportunities to read, they can’t develop the human capital they need to power prosperous societies. If we don’t get children reading now, our future is at risk.

A group of children reads on BookSmart from a tablet in Kenya

How you can get children reading and help them reach their potential

Opportunities to read anytime, anywhere are critical to give children their best chance at learning and leading successful lives. This is especially true in contexts where the COVID-19 pandemic and related learning loss exacerbated education challenges.

Worldreader gets children reading so they reach their potential. We work with partners globally to get children aged 3-12 reading by guiding caregivers and their children on a digital reading journey that improves children’s reading comprehension, social-emotional and digital literacy skills.

You can get children reading now. By supporting our work, you’ll help harness the power of technology to build a culture of reading in over 100 countries, help families support their children’s reading journey in and out of school, and empower children to reach their full potential.

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