Photo credit: Christine Redmond
With more than 1.5 billion school children and students currently deprived of education in the world due to the COVID-19 crisis, the World Book Day, celebrated on 23 April, takes on a special meaning. For Aide et Action, access to books and reading is a priority, as part of the fundamental right to education of every individual. Find out how we are trying to guarantee this right in this difficult context.
" Now more than ever, when most of the world's schools are closed and people are confined, the power of books should be used to combat isolation, strengthen connections between people and broaden our horizons, while stimulating our minds and creativity "This is what UNESCO says on the occasion of World Book Day, celebrated on 23 April.
New technologies positively complement education
Indeed, in these difficult times, when 1.5 billion children and young people are deprived of education due to school closures - over 91% of the world's learning population - reading is emerging as a bulwark against school drop-out. In Cambodia, for example, our work is currently focused on using digital technologies to provide marginalised children with access to books during the Coronavirus crisis.
Over the past eight years, Aide et Action has adopted information and communication technologies (ICT) in its work for education. Following UNESCO's recommendations that ICTs have "the power to complement, enrich and positively transform education "Our teams have integrated inclusive technologies to deliver quality education in most of our projects. In 2013, the Khmer LEARN project was implemented to enable improved reading, learning and teaching standards in Cambodia. Two years later, it was even awarded a prize by the country's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
330,000 users of our mobile application
Today, as the Coronavirus epidemic is raging, Aide et Action is thinking of new ways to use this project to help those affected. To date, the application has been downloaded by 330,000 users across Cambodia and has 1,000 new users every day. Offering over 1,000 digital children's book titles in Khmer and ethnic minority languages, the app provides free access to books across the country. Audio books and educational games are also available. To diversify the content offered, daily storytelling sessions have also been put online.
But the search for new content is not just for children. Aide et Action has also been working on a special platform for staff, partners, teachers and parents to learn how to use technology to educate children and facilitate learning at home.
" Our project is revolutionising reading habits by providing free access to hundreds of e-books in Khmer and other languages for Cambodian children, teenagers and adultssays Samphors Vorn, national director of Aide et Action Cambodia. Through the use of this technology, the limited access to traditional books in Cambodia is being overcome in an effective and exciting way. "
However, we are aware that the availability of Internet and devices varies considerably from one family to another, as does the availability of space where students can study and learn. The use of ICT for education, which can also be a source of inequality, is of course only one of Aide et Action's approaches.
Reading as a means of information and protection
Our main mission is obviously to ensure access to quality education for all. Therefore, in India, our teams are also concerned with marginalised populations by ensuring that they have access to reading material for basic health information. The Bandipur and Mudumalai reserves in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are home to many ethnic groups, each speaking their own local language. To ensure that preventive measures related to COVID-19 reach these communities, Aide et Action has translated information communication materials into their languages.
Indeed, in the absence of a vaccine, strict emphasis on social distancing and other hygiene measures are the only means available to prevent the spread of the virus. In this context, the amount and nature of information available is constantly changing and not all of it reaches ethnic communities. " Thanks to Aide et Action, we received leaflets on COVID 19 awareness in Kaadu-KurumbaI'm not sure how much I'm going to get out of this," says Geetha, a teenage girl living in the tribal settlement of Melukamanahally. The information is very useful for all of us. I was able to understand the precautions needed to protect ourselves from the Coronavirus. I will now explain this to our elders and young people in the community. " This health education material in local languages will benefit 4,400 people in remote areas where we usually work to improve the quality of education.
Aide et Action is raising funds to respond to the Covid-19 emergency in its countries of intervention. Cambodia and India are examples of actions implemented among others. The crisis is global, the need is global and solidarity is key.