Global Literacy Collaborative’s Maryanne Wolf met with Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier this month at the behest of the Pontifica Accdemia delle Scienze. This high level meeting was in response to the Pope’s call for solutions to the “Emergency of the Socially Excluded”.
There are 72 million children with no access to schools, and no opportunity to become literate citizens of our world. Another 100 million children will remain illiterate because of inadequate schooling. In total, there are almost 800 million illiterate people. If we could reduce illiteracy by 170 million people, we would reduce world poverty by 12%. That is the goal of the global literacy initiative, led by a team from MIT Media Lab, Georgia State University, Tufts University, and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. Together we are developing a global, open-source platform that will help children to teach themselves and each other to read through mobile technologies. The curated and/or customized content is based on our work in neuroscience on how the brain learns to read and will be ultimately tailored to the learning performance and engagement of the child. Data capture, analysis, and assessment are to be embodied in evolving, affordable mobile devices. Preliminary data from our first successful deployments in two remote regions of Ethiopia will be presented, along with a description of ongoing deployments in rural Alabama and Georgia in the United States and planned deployments in South Africa, India, Bangladesh, and around the world. If successful, the platform for literacy will be expanded to the development of curricula for health/hygiene, numeracy, and ethics for children, the basis for a more tolerant and compassionate world. The implications of this work for economic development, health indices, and the eradication of poverty was discussed.