UNESCO-Pearson Initiative for Literacy

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© PEARSON/Sudipto Das

Guidelines for digital inclusion

In a rapidly digitising world, people who cannot read or write face new forms of marginalisation. On top of confronting disadvantages in the physical world, illiterate people—currently 10 percent of the world’s population—have difficulties participating in digital realms and accessing services that can strengthen livelihoods and enlarge learning opportunities.

Yet this exclusion is avoidable. Carefully designed digital solutions can help people—even those with very low literacy levels and limited technology skills—navigate digital spaces and benefit from relevant applications, such as those targeting farmers or connecting users to health services.

UNESCO has partnered with Pearson and its Project Literacy programme to develop a set of guidelines that will help today’s technology pioneers build more inclusive digital solutions. These solutions aim to help people with emerging literacy skills discover life-changing portals to information, social services and community engagement, while simultaneously providing reason and means to improve foundational literacy skills.

Establishing digital entry points for people with limited literacy and limited digital skills creates a virtuous cycle that accelerates learning and development, empowering individuals and strengthening communities. 

The UNESCO guidelines explain how digital solution providers—whether technology companies, NGOs or governments—can follow well-defined steps in order to:

  • offer meaningful services that support the development of digital skills and literacy;
  • better understand and design solutions for people with low literacy by taking their unique needs and ambitions into account;
  • create more engaging content and usable interfaces;
  • ensure the implementation environments, in addition to technology and content, support inclusive usage; and
  • regularly monitor, measure and iteratively improve solutions.

Overall, the guidelines help a wide-range of digital solution providers develop content that is usable to people who have previously been excluded. They also reveal how donor organizations can tailor calls for tender and other bidding processes to ensure that digital solutions targeting under-privileged users actually reach these individuals, despite their skill and education limitations.

UNESCO developed the guidelines over a two-year period, drawing on a landscape review of digital inclusion strategies for low-skilled and low-literate people and a set of fourteen case studies. The guidelines reflect the views of an international expert group and were further refined based on feedback from public input.