Last Friday I invited the world (well, everybody that read that blog) into a new conversation about Reading. More specifically, I reminded readers of some very important issues and research that don’t seem to be part of the current conversations in literacy circles. The current buzz is only focused on standards and teacher assessment and the quality of teacher education. These “hot topics” seem to have drowned out actual conversation about creating a world of readers.
So allow me to start a first NEW conversation (of several over the next weeks) with the following assertion:
We CAN afford to put abundant books in just about every young child’s hands right now, worldwide.
(and in another 10 years or so we will be able to remove the words, “just about” from that assertion)
Literacy educators have all begrudgingly accepted the undeniable mathematics that faces us about the challenges of creating world literacy:
- There is not enough money to give all children enough printed books to establish basic literacy. Not now. Not ever.
- There are too many home / mother tongue languages to make printing books economically feasible for publishers even if someone had enough money.
- There are not enough printing presses to produce the billions of pages that such an effort would require.
- There are not sufficient binderies to create those pages into volumes
- Even if we had all those books, there are not enough trucks or teamsters or pack mules to get them into homes around the globe.
It goes on and on. Printed books just can’t “reach” as far as they must. They don’t add up for world literacy.
Now, my two sets of assertion about affordability and the mathematics shared here are not in conflict. They both point in the same direction.
If we wish to stage a full assault to establish basic literacy everywhere, we must accept that our single path to getting sufficient books into homes is the power and reach of digital books. The potential of digital books is already proven. Consider these free online libraries :
Unite for Literacy, our social enterprise which provides free picture books for the very youngest readers. This library of mostly non-fiction books focuses on the diversity of family life in the US. The books can be heard, on-demand, in up to 20 languages, making them a ready resource to over 3 billion people using computers, tablets or smartphones.
The International Children’s Digital Library is available on any computer. It’s a non-profit with thousands of beautiful, free books for ages 3 to 13. It offers each book in at least one and often more than 59 languages.
WorldReader is another non-profit that offers families and schools in developing countries over 6000 free and modestly priced books for Kindle readers of a range of ages.
But Mark…What about the connectivity? As of 2014 Internet and mobile connectivity combine to create a steep and rapid growth line for Internet penetration around the world. There are organizations like the Alliance for Affordable Internet and www.Internet.org working on creating affordable Internet and mobile connections in developing countries and everywhere. Not today, but soon.
Okay, so, what about the mobile devices? That too is just around the corner. With the advent of the $25 smartphone, a world of reading and information is not here, but it’s just around the corner. The time is now and the essential first goal of getting sufficient books into the hands of children everywhere to support basic literacy is just around the corner.
Adding these digital libraries to the wonderful print and digital services of public and school libraries, it is clear that the needed books are already THERE for a huge number of families. As we wait for affordable connectivity and devices, now the challenge is to get the word out to families everywhere, not just that the books are available through their smartphones, tablets and computers, but that its time for getting our fellow educators to start talking about the important stuff: supporting parents in reading and discussing books with their children, starting at birth.