NSL Blog

How do children learn to read when you have no books?

March 14, 2012

In Chapter 5 – which is about mobile communications and its empowering capability – we look at Worldreader.org a company that is in fact taking up this very challenge.

Worldreader.org Designing for Transformation

Rather than a laptop for every child – a noble cause but faced with overwhelming infrastructure problems – Worldreader have given Kindles to school children in Africa that can now harness the wealth of knowledge that exists easily for many of us at a cost which means; access is no longer a barrier to learning. The significance is explained by Brookings

Being able to read and write is the most basic foundation of knowledge accumulation and further skill development. Without literacy, there can be no quality education. Presently, 1 in 5 adults is illiterate, two-thirds of whom are women. At the current pace, over 700 million adults worldwide will still not be able to read in 2015. [1] In global education discussions, literacy rates are most often reported for adolescents and adults, an ex post facto measure of the failure of primary school systems to impart basic skills in the most formative schooling years. It is clear that much needs to be done to provide these adolescents and adults with access to successful literacy programs. But we must also ensure that children with access to schooling are not growing up to be illiterate.

They cite the enormous potential of the Worldreader initiative

the important difference between (the worldreader) e-reader program and similar projects focused on putting computers in classrooms is that e-readers usually operate on the mobile phone system, which has exploded in developing regions over the last few years. In Kenya, more than 80 percent of the population has mobile phone network coverage and more than half of the population has purchased a mobile phone subscription. The GSM compatibility of e-readers allows for downloading of new reading materials wherever there is mobile phone coverage and sufficient funds available to purchase new texts. E-readers also have relatively low levels of energy consumption (a one-hour charge can last more than a week). In addition to gaining the support of community leaders and teachers from the beginning, the pilot began with intense in-service training for teachers in how to use e-readers to complement their existing curricula.

While Worldreader.org has not solved all of the challenges posed by technology initiatives in education, it has taken some important steps toward addressing the barriers to project success.

When we look at archetype organisations for NSL, Worldreader very much meets the criteria of the           6 principles of No Straight Lines.







  1. They embraced ambiguity – to seek a pattern that might suggest a way forward
  2. They evolved a literacy to enable them to adapt to a challenging problem
  3. They built an open ecology of scale
  4. Enabled by the kindle’s the children were able to participate in collective learning
  5. Craftsmanship is evident in the ability to craft an entirely new organisational model.
  6. They designed for Transformation

If you would like to read more about literacy, or the 6 principles of No Straight Lines you can via our open access participatory book please be our guest and click here.

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