Novel idea to spread reading material

Novel idea to spread reading material

A Siem Reap-based NGO recently unveiled a novel initiative which will provide high quality educational books to children in developing countries globally.

The scheme is run by Open Equal Free, which was founded in 2011 and now runs the world’s largest educational news site and lesson plan database for educators in the developing world, with a section specifically aimed at those working in Cambodia.

Last month it launched its campaign, Literacy for Anywhere, which seeks to provide educational reading material for the world’s 260 million children who have limited access to books in their native languages.

Michael Jones, the executive director of Open Equal Free, said the idea for the project originated during his time working in rural Cambodia three years ago.

“I worked with a small NGO that supported an even smaller library,” he said. “I started talking to a scholar of Cambodian language who told me he had visited the library and was impressed. In fact, he said, it was possibly the world’s largest collection of Cambodian children’s literature.

“I was shocked. That library, which was about the size of a small kitchen back home, probably held the largest collection of native language books a Cambodian child could ever hope to see. I had also been on book buying trips only to realise that there were hardly any options for expanding the library, and no good ones.”

Literacy for Anywhere is addressing this dearth of educational materials in developing countries by creating fifty translatable, high-quality books that can be downloaded free of charge, allowing educators to print books in their native languages at a fraction of the cost of producing them from scratch. The program will also make it possible for organisations to make books for students whose native languages are obscure or lack national support.

Jones said, “We hope to print a run of the first book in Khmer next month and the full series should be finished and distributed in time for the next Cambodian school year. The books will be about topics that are difficult to teach or explain without pictures and supplemental materials. The kinds of learning experiences we take for granted back home – learning about far away plants, animals, and peoples – will now be available in classrooms all over Cambodia.”

The nature of Literacy for Anywhere means that even small NGOs can have access to the books.

“We aren’t restricting the first set of books to Siem Reap,” he said. “There are organisations working with schools in very remote parts of the country that would take us thousands of dollars to locate and identify. Our goal is to make it so that these organisations can take matters into their own hands, printing or sourcing these books for a few hundred dollars per library rather than waiting for some international NGO to finally notice them or the village they work with.”

Open Equal Free is now raising further funds for its Literacy for Anywhere program and has plans to add specially designed low-ink editions and smart phone editions of the books.

More information about the project can be found at www.indiegogo.com/projects/literacy-for-anywhere.

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