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USAID Request for Proposals: All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development

By Wayan Vota on November 18, 2011

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and World Vision (collectively referred to as the “Founding Partners”) are seeking game-changing innovations with the potential to dramatically improve reading skills and low literacy rates among primary grade children.


Through a multi-year initiative called All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR), the Founding Partners will collaborate to achieve the goal of global action to improve child literacy.

While recognizing that there are many factors required to improve student learning outcomes in primary grade reading, the Founding Partners have established the All Children Reading Competition to focus on two needs that are both important and largely unmet in low- and lower- middle income countries: teaching and learning materials and education data.

The All Children Reading Competition will support innovative approaches that draw on current research findings related to effective instruction in primary grade reading as well as technology, information, and communication advances that may lead to substantial impact on student learning outcomes at scale. In this context, “innovation” refers to novel business or organizational models, operational or production processes, or products or services that lead to substantial and sustainable improvements in student reading in primary grades.

We seek innovations that produce development outcomes more effectively, cost efficiently, and that reach more beneficiaries. Innovative and potentially transformative solutions may be funded through grants to support new ideas as well as emergent practices, products, or programs.

The Founding Partners are calling on for-profit companies, non-governmental organizations and associations, academic/educational research institutions, faith-based organizations, civil society and foundations—together or in partnership—to take up this challenge. Applicants are encouraged to “think outside of the box,” using creative practices and methodologies to develop innovations clearly linked to improving student learning outcomes in primary grade reading.


Over the past decade, governments in many countries and the international community have rallied around Millennium Development Goal 2: ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.2 As a result, there have been significant increases in primary enrollment worldwide, particularly in low income countries.3 However, learning levels are very low. In Mali, Pakistan and Peru, for example, more than 70% of children in the primary grades could not read at grade level and many could not read a single word after two or more years of schooling.4 One major international assessment, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), found that the average student in low-income countries is performing at the fifth percentile of the OECD distribution worldwide an estimated 35 million girls remain out of school compared to 31 million boys.

USAID has been working to close the gap between boys and girls by assessing the degree of educational disadvantage that girls face, identifying gender-related obstacles, and implementing remedies to remove and overcome these obstacles.

Learning levels of a country’s population are directly correlated with rates of economic growth. A 10% increase in the proportion of the population with basic literacy skills translates into a 0.3 percentage point higher annual growth rate for that country. Other research has shown that early grade reading competency is critical for continued retention and success in future grades. Though it is clear that children’s futures are not solely dependent on reading instruction, reading is a critical and necessary precondition for skill development. Children who do not develop reading skills during the primary grades are on a lifetime trajectory of limited educational progress and therefore limited economic opportunities.

In recognition of the importance of basic literacy for individual and national development, the first goal of the new USAID Education Strategy: Opportunity Through Learning (2011-2015) is focused on improving the reading skills for 100 million children in primary grades by 2015 (See Appendix 1). USAID will measure the performance of its programs primarily through the improvement of reading skills for primary grade students after two years of schooling, consistent with international measures adopted by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE, formerly the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative).

The new Education Strategy also specifically states that USAID education programs will take measures to increase gender parity and improve gender equity at all levels of education, with gender-sensitive interventions tailored to the specific gender issues present in a country’s educational system. The importance of this for gender equality extends beyond any single project in that it sets a clear strategic directive: USAID education interventions that target girls or boys should be based on sound gender analysis, meet an identified need or demand, promote learning outcomes, bring about systemic change, and work to transform the power dynamics between the sexes.

World Vision invests more than US $250 million per year in education and focuses on impact for children and youth ages 3-18 through four strategic objectives that foster the development of functional literacy, math and essential life skills as key outcomes of education: 1) increase children’s access to equitable, quality and sustainable early childhood education and primary education, with special attention to the most vulnerable groups; 2) strengthen community involvement in the education for all children; 3) increase youth’s access to quality educational opportunities, with focus on out-of-school youth; and 4) foster enabling environment for learning through partnership and advocacy with communities, governments, private sector, universities, donors and civil society organizations.

Education is the flagship sector of the Australian aid program. Australia’s commitment to education access and quality includes a clear focus on improving the quality of learning. Australia has three pillars for its investments in education:

  1. improving access to basic education opportunities for all so that children and youth complete a basic education;
  2. improving learning outcomes so that children and youth achieve the basic skills necessary for productive lives; and
  3. driving development through better governance and service delivery so that partner governments support quality education for all.


The All Children Reading Competition will encourage innovative thinking and design to bring new knowledge to the challenge of improving primary grade reading rapidly and at scale in certain countries (see Appendix 2 for a list of Eligible Countries). Applications from and relating to low- and lower-middle income countries are particularly encouraged. While recognizing that there are many factors required to improve student learning outcomes in primary grade reading, the All Children Reading Competition seeks innovations in two areas that are both important and largely unmet in certain low- and lower middle income countries.

Innovations in Teaching and Learning Materials to Improve Student Reading

Teachers and children must have access to appropriate teaching and learning materials, respectively, for classroom instruction and reading practice. Children who report having textbooks score higher on reading tests and those who report having other books at home score even higher.8 Recently developed programs supporting the development of materials to schools, communities and homes are beginning to report impact on student learning.9 However, textbook provision in developing countries continues to be inadequate, let alone provision of supplemental reading materials.

Innovative and affordable approaches are needed to overcome barriers to the design, production, distribution/delivery, and use of high-quality durable and consumable materials (narrative, expository, and instructional) in appropriate languages for the primary grades in developing countries.

Innovations in Education Data to Improve Student Reading

Education data is necessary to support decision-making, incentives, transparency, and accountability needed to improve reading. A lack of quality data on student learning and related issues (e.g., teaching methods, student and teacher performance, absenteeism, and school-level financing) hinders the development and implementation of effective educational policies and supportive classroom/school-level/community action. The potential impact of data on student learning has been very visible over the past few years, with the development of Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) approach to data collection by civil society, now used in India, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania as well as USAID-supported Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) which has now been used by governments, civil society and donors in more than 40 countries.

These assessments have created widespread awareness of student learning levels and some efforts to improve learning in the countries where they have been implemented. But much remains to be done to prioritize and collect performance data, disseminate the data to varied audiences and make it easier to identify and use key data for decision-making.

Innovative and affordable approaches are needed to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the collection and use of education data. A particular need is cost-effective and streamlined approaches for the measurement and reporting of student learning data (classroom-based and system-level testing) to inform instruction, policy development, and resource allocations in developing countries.

Illustrative Areas of Interest

We are interested in funding innovations that will result in (1) widespread access to improved teaching and learning materials and (2) better education data to support decision-making, transparency, incentives and accountability; both of which are essential to advance the goal of All Children Reading in the primary grades. In this context, “innovation” refers to novel business or organizational models, operational or production processes, or products or services that lead to substantial and sustainable improvements in student reading in primary grades.

The illustrative areas of interest listed below are not meant to be exhaustive or limiting in any way.

Innovations in Teaching and Learning Materials to Improve Student Learning

  • Support the production of and/or access to language and level-appropriate narrative, expository and instructional materials for emerging and beginning readers and their teachers;
  • Support the development/editing/printing of texts of similar difficulty in two or more languages/scripts;
  • Address the challenges of materials distribution in developing country contexts;
  • Benefit children with special needs and/or learning disabilities;
  • Foster parent and community involvement in children reading;
  • Support large numbers of teachers in remote locations in their effective and continuing use of new materials;
  • Help students, teachers and communities develop high quality materials locally;
  • Bridge gaps between school and home and support a community reading culture in contexts where family literacy and school involvement levels are low;
  • Leverage existing learning resources such as community libraries, digital libraries and
    other learning platforms; and
  • Create differentiated learning experiences and support individual student practice in low-resource classroom settings with high student : teacher ratios.

Innovations in Education Data to Improve Student Reading

  • Develop simple approaches to allow school and local level managers to prioritize, collect, analyze and use key education-related data at the school level to improve instruction and learning outcomes;
  • Improve school, regional and national level resource planning to improve learning outcomes;
  • Consolidate and analyze disparate sources of education data at the local, regional, national and international level;
  • Widely disseminate education-related data in easy-to-understand ways to a variety of audiences;
  • Deliver data and information to improve teacher preparation and professional development;
  • Assist teachers and education officials with rapid and efficient student assessments and teacher evaluations; and
  • Provide data to support the development of appropriate incentive systems for teachers and officials based on teacher performance and student results.

What We Will Not Fund

  • Applications that are not focused on improving student reading in the primary grades;
  • Applications that do not present a coherent plan showing links between the proposed
    innovation and the education system context
  • Applications that do not propose program in eligible countries (see Appendix 2 – Eligible Country List for the full list of eligible countries); and
  • Solutions that are not applicable, affordable, sustainable, and scalable in eligible countries.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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One Comment to “USAID Request for Proposals: All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development”

  1. Wayan Vota says:

    If you are interested in this funding opportunity, please be sure to review the modifications that USAID just issued