Reading between the lines: Lessons learned at the WorldReader Summit in Nairobi (May 8, 2019)

It was an unexpected honour to be invited as a panel expert at the recent WorldReader 2019 Summit. It was also a really interesting learning opportunity through new connections with a group of professionals whose work is focused on literacy and educational inclusion, i.e., bringing education to many through digital technology. Having talked to various professionals and taken part in a range of brainstorming activities, I picked up on few new trends that I believe will shift the development sector (domestic and international) and will amplify its effectiveness and impact:

  • Youth and women are the main focus of conversations and interventions. This is not new and, in fact, has been long coming – it is no longer possible to ignore almost three quarters of the global population. What is new is the conversation about an inclusive community of men and women, young and old – vs. empowerment of a singled-out gender or age-group, which is neither helpful, nor effective. I especially liked the reading session by two young Kenyans Sharon Makena and Brian Mugiira, who clearly demonstrated to everyone present that learning-centred communities are just that, communities of likeminded people whose gender, age, origins, abilities and language matter much less than their love for learning/reading.
  • Education is no longer seen as teaching/learning a subject, but more of teaching/learning how to learn. I think this is really powerful as a person who can read and knows how she/he learns best can learn anything they want; and as such, there are no boundaries to who and what they can be. We’ve known for a long time that digital space has a lot of potential for changing lives; yet, just by giving people digital tools and access to the internet we are not going to transform their lives immediately and for the better. In fact, there are plenty of examples where digital tools were responsible for a worsening welfare – take online betting for example. Digital spaces require guidance and educational interventions, but as long as we are clear that we are teaching/learning to improve learning processes and outcomes, it’s a huge and very liberating shift.
  • Knowing how to read is still the most critical skill for success. Yes, we’ve got swayed by the new technologies hoping IVR and/or video will be the solution for getting illiterate people onto the train towards the global progress. Truth be told, both technologies are a helpful intermediary solution; but those who cannot read will continue being left behind. My favourite chapter in J-J Rousseau’s book “Emile, or On Education” was about 12-year-old Emile missing out of an invitation to go to a party because he couldn’t read and had to rely on others to read for him. Two hundred years later, the message stays true – a person who can read enjoys the autonomy to learn at their own pace, and pursue their own path in life free from the dependencies on others.
  • To expand on the previous point, literacy is important – but in the past few decades the “face” of literacy has changed/expanded quite a bit. Today, we are not just talking about basic literacy – there are also digital literacy, financial literacy, SRH literacy, with more types to come in the nearest future. While focusing on the basic literacy (reading and writing), we cannot ignore the others because each type of literacy opens a new opportunity. This mans education has to change from subject-centred to literacy-centred at least at the early stages of schooling. I am not saying theoretical education has to be completely replaced with empirical education (in fact, I am strongly against some of the experiments on-going in the US higher-education system). But! Out of the 18 subjects my daughter learned in secondary school, she might use 7 in her adult life; out of the 3 literacies she has not learnedin school (financial, SRH, and digital) she will need all.

I was amazed by how a seemingly narrow subject of “reading” opened the audience up to such a broad discussion of the current and future needs of the humanity to be able to achieve not just personal goals and personal successes but also communal goals, such as SDGs. It is my sincere hope that as participants, as the community of readers/educators/developers we learned the big lessons and will be able to use them to continue shifting the global community towards a more literate, more inclusive and more progressive one.

#africanyouth #youngpeople #inclusiveeducation #reading4success #digitalreading #literacy #worldreadersummit2019 #SDGs