The Stanford Social Innovation Review has a good article on Worldreader.org’s effort to help improve global literacy through getting e-books into the hands of children in the developing world, rather than print books.
The lower cost of digital distribution makes it possible to get more books into the hands of more people in the developing world, and thus create a new culture of reading and increase literacy rates.
I’m glad to see this happening. It’s a good example of how the changes in publishing go far beyond simply how we engage with books here in the U.S.; there is potential in the future of publishing to address large global problems, such as illiteracy, with more effectiveness.
I have been pondering for the last few years whether there might be a way to utilize e-readers to help advance the cause of theological education in the developing world. Worldreader.org’s efforts might point the way to some helpful strategies in that regard as well.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Efforts to improve global literacy typically focus on getting books into the hands of children. Could electronic reading devices leapfrog old-fashioned paper books and catalyze a new culture of reading in places like sub-Saharan Africa? That’s the idea behind Worldreader.org, a start-up nonprofit with worldchanging aspirations.
Dispensing Kindles and other e-readers in the developing world may seem like a fancy solution to a low-tech problem. But Worldreader founder David Risher, a former Amazon executive, says the big goal is to drive down “the cost per book read to the absolute lowest it can be.” Reading selections in many village schools are too limited and, he adds, often too Western to engage young readers. If donated books gather dust in the back of classrooms, they do little to engender a love of reading.
“Lack of access to books has been solved by e-books,” says Risher, noting that thousands of titles are available as digital books. “But there’s no market-driven plan to get e-readers to the developing world.” Worldreader, strong on corporate experience, intends to “prime the market pump,” he says, “and put thousands of books into millions of kids’ hands.”
The infrastructure for supporting e-readers already exists in much of the developing world, thanks to a network for connecting and charging mobile phones in even the most remote regions. E-readers use the same network to download books. During Worldreader’s trial in a village school in Ghana, students used an existing solar charging station to power up their Kindles, which were donated by Amazon. Their comfort with mobile phones and texting meant students had little trouble using e-reader features such as an online dictionary or text-to-speech capability. Because the devices include a built-in light source, students were able to introduce family members to a new activity: reading at home after dark.
(Related to this: You can also learn about Desiring God’s efforts to address the cause of theological famine relief through distributing books to pastors and Christian leaders in the developing world.)