On 1st March, teachers, students and parents across the UK will be celebrating World Book Day 2018. In the digital age, one might ask why reading is still important.

Established by UNESCO and celebrated in over 100 countries worldwide, World Book Day is a one-day festival where all can share their love and appreciation for literature.

Literacy, being able to read and write, is one of the most important skills you can learn. This skill is essential for personal growth, cultural development, and has shown to improve the local economy as well. Recent evidence suggests that children who read for joy are more likely to do well at school, irrelevant of their social or economic background[i] in comparison to their peers.

As Nelly Stromquist, author and Professor of International Development Education in the School of Education at the University of Southern California puts it:

‘Literacy skills are fundamental to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, to active and passive participation in local, national, and global social life, and to the development and establishment of a sense of personal competence and autonomy.’[ii].

How do you make sure that every adult and child has the ability to read and write?

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognised that access to basic education is a fundamental human right. Since then, organisations and governments worldwide have been working together to ensure that all have access to a primary education.

However, seventy years later, there are still those who are failing to gain a primary education. Of the world’s 650 million children at primary school level, 250 million still do not obtain the minimum standard of education[iii]. From learning-difficulties to the inability to access a classroom, there are many reasons to why this is so.

This is where technology can help.

Over the past few years, assistive technology has undergone a revolution. Computers and software programs now have built-in accessibility features such as screen readers, on-screen keyboards and spell checkers. Many students with special educational needs are finding it easier to attain the same level of understanding as their peers, given the right support for their individual needs.

Technology is also helping to teach students in hard-to-reach places. For instance, in sparsely populated areas in China, students are being taught via an online learning platform in real time: a projector screen is set up in the classroom with a webcam where the remote teacher can see what is happening, and students can even interact with classmates in other schools using the same system[iv].

The way we assess students is also starting to change as well thanks to technology, helping this too become more accessible. Already, students with certain special educational needs such as dyslexia or dyspraxia might apply for special access arrangements to take their exams on computer, where this is necessarily their ‘normal way of working’[v].

Developments in assessment technologies also offer the potential for remote students to no longer need to travel to central examination centres to be assessed, instead using computers or mobile devices. The challenge here will be ensuring that all have access to the required technology, and that the necessary infrastructure to support this (such as reliable internet connectivity) is in place both now, and in the future.

Want to learn more on the role technology has, and will continue to play, in transforming the way we teach and assess our students? Download a copy of our whitepaper: Qualifying the skills of the future.

References:

[i] Research evidence on reading for pleasure, Education standards research team, Department for Education, 2012: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/284286/reading_for_pleasure.pdf

[ii] The political benefits of adult literacy, Nelly Stromquist, 2005, p14: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.560.7430&rep=rep1&type=pdf; background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2006: Literacy for Life http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001442/144270e.pdf

[iii] Primary Education – UNICEF DATA, 2016: https://data.unicef.org/topic/education/primary-education/

[iv] Could online classrooms be the answer to teacher shortage in rural China?, South China Morning Post, 2018: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2129821/could-online-classrooms-be-answer-teacher-shortage-rural-china

[v] Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration, Joint Council for Qualifications: https://www.jcq.org.uk/exams-office/access-arrangements-and-special-consideration