Mobiles for Literacy at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A New Approach to Sustainability

Despite the fact that 95% of the world’s children are not native English speakers, there is a shocking absence of digital educational tools for literacy in languages other than English, while there is now overwhelming evidence that children benefit from receiving early education in their mother tongue language.

Digital-based methods of instruction are engaging ways for learners to build their literacy skills. However, achieving universal access to literacy-building digital tools might require a new approach to app development.

Meeting the need of specific language populations and developing reading applications and materials especially tailored to their needs and cultures is an idealistic vision with many obstacles.

One could think that because of these obstacles, digital media can not improve literacy among speakers of less commonly taught languages. However by using a “template” rather than a “tailored” approach to create digital literacy tools for all, scalability and sustainability can be achieved, therefore enabling the product to be sold at an affordable price, especially for people at the “Bottom of the Pyramid”.

Smart4Kids is an application for smartphones, which teaches reading via interactive games and follows a language-specific curriculum. It is currently being localized in Khmer in collaboration with World Education and USAID.

Isabelle Duston

Isabelle Duston is a French polyglot currently living in the U.S. She has has founded several successful companies, including an app development endeavor, with over 400 000 apps sold in the App store.

A serial entrepreneur with a firm belief in using mobile technology to stimulate educational growth and social change, Duston founded her first non-profit organization, iLearn4Fun in 2010. She believes that the digital world lacks a strong platform for non-English speakers. iLearn4Fun advocates for the development of literacy tools in mother tongue by organizing App Contest ( and sharing Creative Common resources to help developer create mother tongue apps (

In 2012 she founded Smart4Kids LLC, which develop educational apps for literacy. Using the power of interactive games to engage children in the learning process and to teach them how to read in their native language through interactive games. The application is currently available in English and localized in Khmer in a collaborative project with World Education.

In 2010, Duston received two Stevie Awards for Women in Business: Best New Company of the Year and Technology Innovator of the Year. In May 2011, Duston won Virginia’s Region 2000 Innovator of the Year Award.

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