For many years the global community, including World Vision, worked to significantly increase school attendance by providing buildings, materials, and uniforms. While enrollments dramatically improved, access to school did not produce the desired improvement in learning — many children emerged from primary school unable to read or write.

In many contexts, critical learning outcomes fell as students entered overflowing classrooms without additional teachers or with teachers who had not been adequately trained. Add to this cultural biases against educating girls and children with disabilities that precluded many in those groups from accessing school at all.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Yet in 2018, 100 million youth worldwide were illiterate. Development professionals agree that without education, it is almost impossible to break out of poverty. This means that education is at the very heart of sustainable development. The educational door that unlocks the future for a child is literacy.

Why it matters

Children who can read well have access to a world of possibilities that can set them on a path to success. If every student in developing countries left school with basic literacy skills, 171 million people could lift themselves out of poverty. But, according to UNESCO, as many as six in 10 students worldwide aren’t reading at minimum standards of proficiency. What’s holding them back?

Under-resourced schools and poor teacher training in low-income countries like Rwanda keep students from mastering literacy skills. Crowded classrooms—some with a 50:1 student-to-teacher ratio—a shortage of teachers, inadequate teaching methods, and a lack of quality learning materials all contribute to this problem. And when parents aren’t literate themselves, they can’t help their children learn to read.

For some children, education is about more than living a fulfilling life—it’s a matter of life and death. A child born to an illiterate mother is 50% less likely to survive past age 5. Without an education, children are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, such as being trafficked, forced to marry young, or made to work in hazardous conditions. One study calculated that if all girls completed 12 years of education, child marriage rates could drop by 64%.

Readers access a wide range of opportunities that simply aren’t possible for the illiterate. Meaning and possibility are everywhere for kids who can read.

Jen Wolford NLC member and World Vision donor

From better health to increased wealth, education is the catalyst of a better future for millions of children, youth, and adults. No country has ever climbed the socioeconomic development ladder without steady investments in education.

Irina Bokova Former Director-General of UNESCO


Our Approach

Our award-winning Unlock Literacy program empowers parents and children to value education and its life-changing potential. We focus on immersing students in words while enhancing community structures that contribute to learning. To do this, we:

  1. Establish after-school reading camps with trained volunteers and age-appropriate books for children to take home, so they’re excited about reading
  2. Empower parents to learn along with their children and understand the value of education, so they prioritize school
  3. Equip primary school teachers with quality training and resources to cut off the cycle of illiteracy at its roots

And we build adaptability into our programs. Even during a once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis, children can continue learning: Despite the shuttering of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reading camp facilitators are delivering books door-to-door. And, since the Rwandan government shifted its main curriculum to focus on English as the language of schools, we’re now printing storybooks in English to align with this change.


2020 Highlights


story books were purchased


volunteers were trained to reach children with story books and literacy support


children were reached during COVID-19 through house-to-house book lending

News and Stories

Our team of experts

Christy Fellner
Director Child Protection & Education, PQI
Alisa Phillips
Senior Education Advisor
Mike Greer
Senior Technical Advisor