Imagine a world where 12 percent of existing poverty has been eliminated.
In that world, 200 million children have become educated, contributing citizens.
These are attainable goals of the Global Literacy Project, representing one of the most important applications of technology and neuroscience in education.
It is based on research into how the brain learns to read.
A former Eldorado native, Boston Tufts University Professor Maryanne Wolf, daughter of Frank and Mary Wolf of Eldorado, is involved in this project.
She has been invited to address the Vatican's Academy of Science in November. She will describe the first results of the project to the Vatican's Bread and Brain meeting. The meeting is part of the new Pope Francis' efforts to eradicate world poverty and its consequences.
Wolf recently returned from Ethiopia and South Africa.
She and her colleagues are working to assure that children in remote regions of Africa — and also in rural regions of the United States — will have an opportunity to become literate.
The Global Literary Project is an initiative that represents researchers from the Tufts University Center for Reading and Language Research in Boston, the MIT Media Lab and Georgia State University. The goal is to solve the world-wide problem of illiteracy.
Almost 200 million children are illiterate.
It is estimated that around 72 million children live in poor, remote areas having no access to schools and teachers. These children could remain illiterate with little opportunity to develop their potential. Another 100 million children live where schooling is so inadequate they fail to learn to read.
The first step in this work, creating the software for an affordable tablet computer, has been completed by Wolf and her colleagues. The goal was to help children learn to read on their own, with no teacher or school. The content of the apps and e-books was carefully selected, incorporating principles that Wolf learned regarding how the brain learns to read.
Next, through the use of technology developed at MIT, the researchers collected data on the tablets that tracked how the children used the tablet and apps. The researchers then used these data to improve the tablet experience. The tablet-based learning experience is intended to familiarize children with alphabetic principles and reading precursors that will enable them to achieve a first grade reading level. Considerable research shows that one full year of literacy training improves both children's and adult's personal economic development and health outcomes. Two-thirds of the illiteracy in the world represents untaught girls and women. The children of young girls who receive the equivalent of one to two years of literacy have a better chance of living to age five.
Wolf and her colleagues now have active pilot deployments in two remote areas of Ethiopia. Presently, 40 children in two villages, who live beyond the reach of schools, have been achieving remarkable precursor literacy skills with the tablets. With no adult to teach them, these children use the tablets more than six hours a day.
Page 2 of 2 - They explore and share over 300 apps and educational media on the tablets.
Wolf recently completed the first formal assessment of what the children in Ethiopia have learned with the tablet computers in one year.
Results are inspiring.
Many of the children have learned the alphabet and letter-sound correspondence rules.
They can recognize almost all English letters and can write letters from memory. A few children are "sight-word reading" a group of highly familiar words. These latter top performers are on the cusp of decoding and beginning to read.
Importantly, in both villages, older girls are among the most advanced and are actively teaching the other children. This suggests that as improvements to the platform and the applications/media are delivered, many of these children will be able to make that critical step to learn to decode. The group's final goal will be to propel the children to use their beginning skills to learn to read on their own.
To do so would make history, and bring profound implications and opportunities to how society can approach the education of children who live outside the reach of any teacher or school.
Wolf and her group are also interested in the potential of this work for children within schools and communities that have too few teachers and too few resources. Wolf's Tufts colleague Stephanie Gottwald just returned from South Africa.
There a single teacher in some settlement schools has from 60 to 90 children in a classroom. Other members of the team have begun to study the potential of these same tablets for children in rural areas of the United States, particularly Georgia and Alabama.
There are many children in the US whose early vocabulary and early reading skills are poorly developed and these children may benefit from tablet-based technology.
Wolf is quick to point out that we do not yet know how far the present tablets can push the learning of children. She is convinced that the present work points the way to better applications of technology for children who would otherwise never learn to read.
In addition to the Vatican's Bread and Brain meeting, she has been asked to present her group's findings to Google's Solve for X meeting in France and many academic and technology conferences in the coming year Maryanne Wolf was raised in Eldorado and went to school at St. Mary's School. She graduated from Eldorado High School. She studied at St. Mary's College/Notre Dame, Northwestern University, and Harvard University, where she completed her doctorate.
She is presently the John DiBiaggio Professor of Citizenship and Public Service, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University.