Many children in Asia and Africa struggle with basic literacy, hindering their ability to study more advanced subjects. Schools are often overcrowded, resources limited and teachers too stretched.

The coronavirus pandemic has set back pupils’ learning further, closing schools. Limited access to mobile devices and the internet is a barrier to studying remotely.

The FT followed two children determined to pursue their education despite the difficulties. Both have access to programmes to help their reading.

Kirma, India

In the village of Charpatia in Madhya Pradesh, India, where female literacy is 20 per cent below male levels, Kirma, eight, uses books in Hindi provided by the Strengthening Academic Leadership for Early Reading initiative, supported by the UN children’s fund Unicef and non-profit Room to Read with the state department of education. Her family’s main dialect is Nimadi.

With her school shut during the pandemic, Kirma finds a place outside to read ‘Elephant Hiccups’, a book in Hindi from the Room to Read library © Kuldeep Bhawsar/FT
Her teacher, Sapna Malviya, who visits the village twice a month, delivers worksheets and books to Kirma and her parents at home © Kuldeep Bhawsar/FT
Kirma and Sapna in her school library, which has been closed, along with most classrooms, since March 2020 © Kuldeep Bhawsar
Sapna reviews reading materials sent by phone with Kirma and her uncle Rikesh, who helps her learn. The teacher also phones periodically to offer support © Kuldeep Bhawsar/FT
Kirma reads ‘Bauna Kalu’, a book about a dwarf donkey, with her father © Kuldeep Bhawsar/FT
Kirma reads with her Uncle Rikesh Chauhan, who is in his first year of college. © Kuldeep Bhawsar/FT

Joshua, Tanzania

In Kibaha in the Pwani region of Tanzania, just over half of children complete primary education and a third never attend school at all. Joshua, nine, reads Swahili books by local authors and published by Room to Read.

In rural Tanzania, Emmaculata Mbangula, Joshua’s teacher, guides his reading in Swahili in a crowded classroom © Julius Mahela/FT
Joshua and schoolmates answer a question in class © Julius Mahela
Joshua selects the Room to Read Swahili book ‘Katete and Time’, which teaches time management © Julius Mahela/FT
Emmaculata teaches Swahili outside Joshua’s home © Julius Mahlea/FT
Joshua plays football with his friends © Julius Mahela/FT
Joshua’s father Samweli, a pastor, rides a bicycle to the local church for bible study © Julius Mahela/FT
Joshua reads to his parents from his favorite book, ‘Jasu na Mpira’, written by a local author, about a child who makes her own ball   © Julius Mahela/FT

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