by Minnia Feng, MSEN Community Manager
“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the 21st century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens.”
Former President of the United States Bill Clinton made these remarks 20 years ago on International Literacy Day. The words were true then and are even truer now as the world faces more and more difficult challenges.
Teachers are a huge part of that initiative to bring literacy to all. As much as educators in many countries are engaging in dialogue on 1:1 Learning and Teaching with Technology, the reality is that in many areas (in fact, a majority of the world) there simply does not exist the access to devices like tablets and computers that some of us may take for granted. One thing that most people in most countries do have is a mobile phone—it may be hard to believe, but even in the developing world most people have access to a cellphone, no matter how basic that device may be.
Starting from the grassroots is very important, and using whatever tools are at educators’ disposal around the world is critical. One example of this is the Microsoft Flashcards app—the app can be used to learn to read and write, as well as learn a new language. I spoke to Susanna Silvennoinen, part of the Microsoft Flashcards team and a big proponent of education in developing countries, about the development of the app and how it is used. She told me, “Nokia Lumia phones are as cheap as $50, and lower end feature phones for as low as $20– I carry one (a Lumia 530) just to show how much you can do with a low cost device.” This type of technology is accessible to a larger percentage of the world, and sparks a conversation about the potential of mobile apps in increasing literacy around the world. Here’s what Susanna had to say about the app:
“The Microsoft Flashcards application makes learning to read a lot of fun! The app is available for Lumia phones all over the world, in seven languages, targeting anyone learning to read, write or learn a new language. Initial interest before the launch has come from organizations working with as varied target groups as migrant children in the Philippines and illiterate women in rural Morocco. They share the need for an application that can help them become literate in the language surrounding them.
Microsoft Flashcards for Lumia phones was launched in October, with card decks in 8 languages: English, French, Arabic, Thai, Vietnamese, Hindi, Zulu and Finnish. Each language file contains 3 different kinds of problems: picking the right picture, picking the right word, and writing the word correctly. The English and Finnish card decks are accompanied by sound files, giving the proper pronunciation of the words.
Microsoft has created the application, and we are cooperating with organizations who will create new card decks and sound files, in more languages. In addition to the available basic decks it is possible to create, for example, cards that will teach individual letters or short sentences, catering to different literacy and language learning levels.
Do try out the app, let your toddler learn to read, or brush up on your French! Go to the “Microsoft Flashcards” app and download it to your phone.”
Educators around the world, we ask you—what does literacy mean to you, and how do you think education can be increasingly empowered in developing regions of the world?