No More Books Collecting Dust: Julia Firestone, Global Education Platform

Photo Courtesy of Jessamine Cera.


Today marks International Literacy Day. Literacy plays a significant role in the Sustainable Development Goals, not only to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” but also in reaching goals for health, gender equality, economic growth, and employment.


According to UNESCO, there are “757 million adults who still cannot read or write a simple sentence.” Nearly two-thirds of whom are women. In their 2014 report in collaboration with Nokia and Worldreader, UNESCO identified the gap in access to internet in developing countries and advocated for the use of mobile technology for reading. In the article below, Julia Firestone, a GBC-Education consultant working to help build out the Global Education Platform, talks about how her trip to Ghana changed the way she views literacy and technology.


My father perched on a chair next to my bed, reading Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak for what must have been the hundredth time. It was my favorite book growing up. It captured my imagination and inspired me to think differently, helping me to develop a deep sense of empathy for others. That I selected this book over others was mostly happenstance. I was the oblivious owner of a treasure, a towering bookshelf of more than 200 books — all filled with stories that I could relate to and written in the language I spoke fluently.


It wasn’t until years later at an orphanage in Ghana’s Volta Region that I realized the incredible privilege of growing up with my own collection of books. While teaching a group of 7- and 8 year-old children, I was excited to find a book that might have some local cultural relevancy; of the few books stacked on a small shelf, most were in English and collecting dust. I picked up Anansi the Spider (another story that I loved as a child) and began reading to a group of children, but when it was their turn to read aloud, they struggled to read words, put together simple sentences, and comprehend English.




Volunteers probably continued to bring books from the United States and Europe to the students at the orphanage — a well-intentioned but likely not impactful gift. What the students lacked, and what continues to be a fundamental challenge in global literacy, is access to relevant and meaningful reading materials in local languages.


While teachers, family members, and the global development community work tirelessly to support literacy for marginalized youth, without these reading materials, it is extremely difficult to build literacy skills. Fortunately, locally relevant reading materials are becoming increasingly easy to provide around the world. In fact, it is entirely possible to give children access to their own personal libraries of thousands of books filled with relevant stories in local languages — far surpassing my own childhood collection.


There are numerous companies, organizations, and individuals engaged in using technology to provide quality education for marginalized youth. Through GBC-Education’s Global Education Platform initiative, I am thrilled to be working to identify and accelerate the most impactful and innovative solutions to education inequality.


In just a few weeks, during the UN General Assembly, GBC-Education will be announcing the launch of a new phase of the Global Education Platform. Through collaboration with partners across the private sector, NGOs, leaders of global education, and youth from around the world, GBC-Education will be taking a big step towards providing access to learning tools for marginalized youth.


The kids I met in Ghana don’t have time to wait for a quality education. While books about “Susie’s first snow day” and “John’s summer camp adventure” collect dust in schools in Ghana and developing countries around the world, the development community has been missing the opportunity to provide relevant learning material for young people. We can no longer hope that the solutions appear. This is why we are acting now. We need technology entrepreneurs, business leaders, global development experts, youth, and educators to join us in accelerating the use of technology to deliver learning opportunities for the most marginalized youth.


Now more than ever, everyone can play a role in promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Join us and as Max from Where the Wild Things Are said, “Let the wild rumpus [of learning] start!”


To learn more about GBC-Education’s Global Education Platform, contact Julia Firestone at [email protected].