AI-supported Literary Pen recognised at Cannes festival

Saturday July 06 2024

Literacy Pen by The World Literacy Foundation and-Media-Monks. PHOTO | POOL


A new artificial intelligence-using literacy tool, the Literacy Pen, has won a Silver award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (formerly the International Advertising Festival) in France.

The festival is a global event for those working in creative communications, advertising, and related fields.

The Literacy Pen is an innovative educational tool designed to empower illiterate individuals to write and learn to read.

The device clips onto a pen or pencil, and the user can speak into a microphone with a digital display showing the word or sentence.

“The pen helps illiterate people by allowing them to say words to the device, which then shows them how to spell the words they want to write. It is particularly useful for illiterate individuals whose second language is English—they may know how to speak English but not how to write it,” said chief operations officer of the World Literacy Foundation, Vanessa Portilla.

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“We are already present in Kenya, with another programme called Sun Books, working in Kisumu. We believe it is a perfect opportunity to start testing the device with our students’ parents and communities around the schools where we implement Sun Books."

Asked if this pen will replace the adult education classroom experience, Portilla replied: “No, it won’t replace the classroom experience; it will support it. This tool strengthens the learning process through repetition and reinforcement.”

Portilla says they are targeting young adults aged 18-35 in Kenya. And the pen will cost around Ksh8, 000 ($61.5).

One of the first users of the Literacy Pen, 39-year-old Trent Smith, a gardener from Australia, says: “I can finally see the spelling of the words to fill out a form at work. It’s transformed my life and my ability to communicate.”

Trent is one of 773 million people in the world who can’t read. The Literacy Pen is a low-cost solution for people with limited or no literacy skills, helping them to overcome the daily barriers they face due to illiteracy.

The World Literacy Foundation, in collaboration with Media Monks, has developed an intuitive and user-friendly digital pen. This innovative device leverages 21st-century technology to assist struggling readers, helping them integrate more fully into society and lead a more inclusive life.

Trent shares, “Being illiterate creates so many daily challenges, like catching a bus, reading a medicine label, or writing a job application.”

Andrew Kay, CEO of the World Literacy Foundation, says, “The Literacy Pen is one of the most significant advances in the past 20 years to aid illiterate young people and adults who face adversity and exclusion in day-to-day life. The economic, personal, and social cost of living a life of illiteracy is deeply profound. The Literacy Pen is a highly effective and practical solution to addressing this issue.”

Kay also announced today that the World Literacy Foundation has launched a global campaign asking philanthropists to support the rollout of the Literacy Pen in 2025 in Kenya, focusing on communities with the greatest need.

The World Literacy Foundation is a leading global nonprofit organisation striving to eradicate illiteracy by 2040.

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According to Portilla, the pen has been used in Australia, the USA, the UK, Nigeria, and Uganda. The official launch of the pen will be on September 8, 2024, International Literacy Day (ILD).

ILD is an international observance, celebrated each year on September 8, which was declared by Unesco on October 26, 1966 at the 14th session of Unesco's General Conference. It was celebrated for the first time in 1967.

According to Unesco, ILD reminds policy-makers, practitioners, and the public of the critical importance of literacy for creating more literate, just, peaceful, and sustainable society.

Literacy is a fundamental human right for all. It opens the door to the enjoyment of other human rights, greater freedoms, and global citizenship. Literacy is a foundation for people to acquire broader knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and behaviours to foster a culture of lasting peace based on respect for equality and non-discrimination, the rule of law, solidarity, justice, diversity, and tolerance and to build harmonious relations with oneself, other people and the planet, Unesco says.

This year, ILD will be celebrated under the theme of “Promoting multilingual education: Literacy for mutual understanding and peace.”