Over a year ago, I learned a startling fact: there are over 796 million adults in the world that cannot read and two out of three of them are women.
It gave me great pause to wonder what it's like not to be able to read as an adult. If you've ever traveled in a country where the language and alphabet is radically different than your own, you might have a small sense of it.
Wondering what it would be like not to be able to absorb the written word I thought of what Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in Infidel, her own journey out of Somalia and later away from a fundamentalist Muslim tradition. Ali made the point that her journey began in books. She saw the world from a different perspective and realized that the one she had been taught from childhood was only one such view. Reading created choice and in that, freedom. Perhaps that is the ultimate gift of reading -- the ability to step into another worldview and to discover.
Our failure as global citizens to assure every member has access to education and a human right to learn is something I think can be corrected. The availability of classrooms with quality teachers is a goal within reach for the millions of children around the world and global efforts are underway to meet that goal. At the same time, however, there are millions of adults who cannot read and will not have access to adult education. And it is estimated that a new generation of some 122 million young adults (15-22) are likely to follow in these footsteps of illiteracy.
There is a solution to reaching non-literate adults without teachers, classrooms, or paper and pencils. That solution is mobile phones. There are an estimated 6 billion phones in the world today and whether you are in the rural regions of Malawi, the Kibera slum of Kenya, or conflict regions around the world, mobile phones abound. They may not be smart phones but they are available to almost everyone from every walk of life.
A little over a year ago, my husband and I began an organization called 'Cell Ed' to bring literacy to adults via mobile phones (e.g. 'feature' phones). We developed a simple methodology using audio and SMS and began piloting it in Los Angeles, CA where there are some 200,000 Spanish speaking adults who cannot read.
Results of research on Cell Ed show you can teach someone to read using 'old school' phones with simply audio instruction and SMS. It allows learning to happen anytime and anyplace -- between jobs, riding a bus, at night after kids are in bed, or in the morning before school and work begin.
We were recently selected as one of the top 10 most innovative programs for 'women helping women' by INTEL (out of 292 applicants spanning over 50 countries) and are now in a competition to make it to the top 3.
YOUR VOTE CAN HELP US WIN and bring literacy to all -- one phone at a time.
Click here to vote for Cell Ed.
Follow Susan Smalley, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/suesmalley