Although there have been major strides in education enrollment over the past 15 years, 250 million children of primary school age are still unable to recognize basic letters and numbers. Worryingly, 130 million of these children attend 4 years or more of school and still leave without basic foundational skills. Evidence supports the role of books in improving learning and reading acquisition, yet many children lack access to both reading books and textbooks. Over the past few decades, donors, including bilateral organizations and private foundations, have provided millions of dollars in funding and programmatic support to improve book provision and usage. Despite this extensive support, there continues to be an underfinancing of books, and the problem persists.
Traditional approaches are not working. We need a transformative international mechanism to mobilize funding, raise awareness, and tackle issues across the book chain. Results for Development (R4D) and International Education Partners Ltd. (IEP) were contracted to analyze the feasibility and design of this proposed mechanism, referred to as the Global Book Fund.
Following the finalization of our study in April 2016, the Global Book Fund was renamed Books for Every Child: The Global Book Alliance (GBA).
The proposed Global Book Alliance will be a transformative international mechanism to mobilize funding, raise awareness, and improve the provision and use of both textbooks and reading books. Its key activities will include:
- Becoming the go-to one-stop shop for knowledge and best practices on the effective development, procurement, distribution, and usage of all books; Advocating and instilling the importance of reading materials;
- Bringing donors and diverse stakeholders together to coordinate around book chain issues and to foster long-term policy dialogue;
- Helping countries make their book chains more efficient through finance, technical advice, and joint learning such that books actually reach students at reasonable cost and are then used by teachers and students; and
- Where needed, funding reading books in mother tongue languages that correspond to languages of instruction where there is demonstrated financial need and country commitment.
A global effort to improve literacy
Around the world, children don't have the books they need to learn. R4D's analysis informed the creation of a new global effort to get books into the hands of children.
Our analysis was informed by data collection in 13 countries and global stakeholder consultations, drawing on relevant experiences from funds in health and other sectors as well as lessons from reading programs, commodity procurement, and provision of books. A selection of our 16 findings is presented below:
- Lack of awareness among governments, parents, and teachers of the value of reading books in supporting literacy.
- To meet a theoretical minimum book standard for all pre-primary and primary students, low and middle income countries need to spend between US$3.1 billion-US$3.9 billion yearly. However, research is needed to understand a more realistic, current, addressable market size.
- There is an inadequate supply of appropriate mother tongue reading book titles due to low awareness of the value of reading books, limited authorship capacity, and lack of content sharing arrangements. Given these challenges, the GBA could, at the global level, serve as or support a content repository to expand access to published titles, and at the country level, support the growth, sustainability, and quality of local publishing industries as needed.
- Public sector book procurement is not always optimized for cost, quality, and sustainable supply. A GBA could play a role in (a) disseminating and incentivizing the use of procurement best practices, (b) improving the consistency and predictability of demand, and/or (c) promoting centralized pooled procurement for reading books at the national level to lower book costs.
- The cost to implement a digital reading program based on a library model is about 12-13 times more expensive than the cost to implement a similar print reading program. However, for structured reading programs where each child is reading the same book at the same time, digital programs are less expensive per child than print programs.
- Common supply chain challenges include weak demand forecasting, poor management systems, inadequate financing, lack of trained staff, and inefficient distribution.
- Many teachers are unaware how to appropriately use books in classrooms and how to set up and run school and classroom libraries.