Worldreader.org Delivers E-Readers to the Developing World

Education and literacy are the cornerstones of economic growth, but in many parts of the developing world access to reading materials is limited. The mission of Worldreader.org is to use the new technologies with electronic readers and digital books to deliver literature -- and literacy -- worldwide.

A non-profit organization, Worldreader.org raises funds to help bring down the cost e-readers til they are a price that local governments can afford to pay. Also, the funding is used to develop and digitize locally generated content, as well as to maintain local support in the developing world. According to Worldreader.org, "We will declare success if we have not only improved reading rates and demand for books, but also have helped create a sustainable business ecosystem to create content for, distribute, and support e-readers in developing communities."

And while this definition of "success" means that Worldreader.org has its work cut out for it, the organization has already had two trials this year that point to good things. The first trial was in Spain, and the second in a village in Ghana. The latter was well-received, and according to the trial results were positive: kids seemed excited to read books, and the devices were accepted as acceptable alternatives to paper books. Even those with limited computer experience were quickly able to operate the e-readers.

According to the report on this second trial, "The infrastructure already in place for mobile phones supports e-readers." Indeed as we've written about on Justmeans before, parts of the developing world do have access to wireless telephony. "Low-power Kindles successfully charged from solar-powered car batteries in an hour, we were able to download books via the satellite internet link in 45 seconds, and there was cell phone coverage in the village."

But there are, of course, many challenges that Worldreader.org will face: cost, lack of content, and needs for particularly rugged technology due to some of the environmental conditions.

In November of 2010, Worldreader.org plans to launch a year-long trial in multiple schools in Ghana, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. During this trial, the organization will assess whether students with e-readers read more and read better than those without the devices.

It may be quick for some to dismiss e-readers as gadgets for the elite. But Worldreader.org is demonstrating to the contrary -- these tools can actually be powerful devices for bringing literacy and education to the developing world, at a rate that is cheaper than printed books.