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January 24, 2024

Starting the Story for More Children on International Day of Education

International Day of Education is a chance to remember that learning begins well before children enter school. All children deserve to benefit from the power of books and stories. Making books available to all children is essential if we are to end learning poverty and equip children with the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of the future.

#StartTheStory with us!

To mark The International Day of Education on January 24, 2024, we are using the hashtag #StartTheStory on social media to highlight the pivotal power that books, stories, and reading materials have in transforming lives and building better futures. Join us and share what started the story for you!

CALLING ALL READERS! What book made you a reader? #EducationDay is Jan 24.  To celebrate, share your favorite childhood book using #StartTheStory. Let's spark the joy of reading for all children everywhere!

What started the story for you?

Why Reading with Children Matters

Becoming a reader is a complex process which requires lots of support and practice. Activities like talking to children, asking them questions, telling them stories and rhymes, and reading to them all form the foundations for children’s language development. Even after children start school and are taught the mechanics of reading, the process continues as children master more complex reading skills and move from learning to read to using reading as a tool to learn. Children need varied books (including picture books, non-fiction books, and textbooks), support and encouragement from their parents and caregivers, effective literacy instruction in school, and regular opportunities to read. 

Illustration of parent and child reading a book
Having access to children’s books alongside support and encouragement from parents and caregivers makes a significant difference. Children who grow up in homes with lots of books and being read to regularly are at an advantage compared to kids in bookless homes. In one study of families across 35 countries, having at least one children’s book at home almost doubled the likelihood of the children being on track in literacy and numeracy. Children who are read to multiple times a day before the age of 5 hear an estimated 1.4 million more words.

The Issue

Unfortunately, too many children are growing up without books. Only 2 percent of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa are growing up with three or more children’s books in their homes. Parents and caregivers with low literacy levels may not be aware of how they can support their children’s learning with reading activities. In some languages, there are few (or no) books available, which means children can’t practice reading in a language they know. Even where books are available, they are often costly, making it prohibitively expensive for families. In some countries where textbooks are purchased by the education system, challenges with procurement and distribution can result in low-quality, high-cost books which don’t arrive in school on time (or at all).

These issues have lifelong consequences: seventy percent of children in low- and middle-income countries are unable to read and understand an age-appropriate passage by their tenth birthday (a situation we call learning poverty). Learning poverty wastes young peoples’ potential, impacts future workforces and ultimately, erodes countries’ economic competitiveness.

The World Bank's Approach

Illustration of woman handing books to childrent
The World Bank is taking a practical and collaborative approach to start the story for more children and ensure they grow up as readers and learners. The World Bank’s Literacy Policy Package and Early Grade Reading Rainbow are among the many evidence-based resources that have been developed to support literacy for all.

Between FY19-FY23, World Bank Group-supported educational programs benefited close to 500 million students globally, including 53 million in countries affected by fragility and conflict.

Through the Read@Home initiative, the World Bank is working with governments and other partners in 18 countries so far to expand access to quality reading and learning materials, reduce the cost of procuring and distributing books, and support parents and caregivers from the most vulnerable households to engage with their children’s learning.

  • In Senegal, for example, Read@Home is supporting the government to distribute books in Arabic, French, and seven Senegalese languages alongside support for parents and caregivers to reach over 2 million children aged zero to six (covering 50 percent of children below the age of six across the country).
  • In North Macedonia, Read@Home supported government efforts to boost children’s reading assessment scores in the early grades, reaching the poorest 10 percent of families with storybooks and activities to encourage reading at home.
  • Read@Home launched the Early Learning Resource Network to enable governments and partners to find and use open licensed books and instructional materials in multiple languages, and provide tools and guidance to support every stage of the book development and distribution process.

In 2020, the World Bank, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FCDO, UNICEF, and USAID launched the Accelerator Program which coordinates efforts across the partners to ensure that the countries in the Program are showing improvements in foundational skills at scale over the next three to five years.  The Accelerator Program acknowledges a global cohort of countries or sub-national entities that 1) demonstrate strong political and financial commitment to improved learning, 2) are willing to measure and monitor learning outcomes, and 3) have an investment plan to reduce learning poverty. 

The World Bank is also working closely with UNICEF, UNESCO, FCDO, USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and GPE as the Coalition for Foundational Learning to advocate and provide technical support to ensure foundational learning.  The World Bank works with these partners to promote and endorse the Commitment to Action on Foundational Learning, a global network of countries committed to halving the global share of children unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 by 2030.