Accelerating Learning for All

Can you read this sentence? If so, you are literate.

Sometimes we take literacy for granted, but can you imagine what it would be like to not be able to read and write? Literacy is vital for people’s social, emotional, and economic wellbeing. Yet there are still hundreds of millions around the world – especially in Low and Middle Income Countries, including India – who lack the key skills of reading, writing and doing basic arithmetic.

That’s why we developed the Accelerating Learning for All (ALfA) program, which enables learners to become literate and numerate in just 3-5 months, compared to the traditional 3-5 years. Using a known-to-unknown approach which bypasses the need to learn the alphabet, ALfA unlocks the power of paired learning to teach the key skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Explore this page to understand the scale of the literacy crisis and learn how the revolutionary ALfA program works.

Benefits of Literacy

Literacy is vital to socio-economic well-being, at multiple levels:

  • Expanding job opportunities. There is a strong positive correlation between literacy and income level, with literate people earning an estimated 40-70% more than their illiterate counterparts.
  • Breaking inter-generational poverty. Parents who can read and write are more likely and able to send their kids to school.
  • Boosting self-confidence. Literacy helps people feel more confident in themselves, more able to take initiative to improve their lives.
  • Improving health.  In developing countries, a child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past age 5, relative to a child born to an illiterate mother.
  • Enhancing political rights. Literate people are generally more able to access information about current events, make up their own mind, and engage in the political process.

Read some of the stories of our learners to see what a difference literacy has made in their lives.

ALfA Pedagogy

The ALfA program is more than just a set of books, it is a way of teaching. This groundbreaking pedagogy enables learners to become foundationally literate and numerate in just 45 days. It is based on three key principles:

Paired Learning

When students sit in pairs, even the shiest one becomes an active learner. Paired learning is more enjoyable, leads to better learning outcomes.

Known to Unknown

ALfA flips the traditional ‘A for Apple’ on its head, moving from known (picture) to unknown (letter). Children read words from the first lesson, without wasting months on the alphabet.

Asking Questions

Students make their own questions and ask each other, which engages them more deeply in the learning process and is crucial to developing 21st century skills.

A Global Literacy Crisis

There are over 750 million illiterate adults around the world today, two thirds of which are women. As discussed in Disruptive Literacy: A Roadmap for Urgent Global Action, the number of illiterate adults has been stubbornly hard to decrease over the last 50 years.

The Covid crisis has severely disrupted education systems around the world, with the World Bank estimating that 70% of 10-year-olds in Low and Middle Income Countries are now in learning poverty – that is, unable to read a simple text with understanding. We must urgently ensure these children learn the key skills which will serve them well for the rest of their lives – or else risk losing another generation to illiteracy.

Learn about the ALfA literacy program in countries as diverse as Maldives, Peru, Guyana and the US.

Illiteracy in India

According to UNESCO, 250 million adults in India are illiterate – this is by far the world’s largest population of illiterates. While literacy rates have grown from 64% to 74% between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses, the rate of improvement is disappointingly slow. This lack of literacy has major negative consequences economically, politically and socially.

India has achieved near universal primary school enrolment rates. However, schools are often failing to make their students literate. The Annual Status of Education Report (2022) indicates that over half of Grade 5 students can’t read a Grade 2 text in their mother tongue, and a similar proportion can’t do a 2-digit subtraction problem. The fact that so many students are failing to learn the basics in school indicates the deep failings of our education system, showing the need for radical reform.

Learn about the impact ALfA is making in Indian government schools.

Some of the stories

Sufia, 40, doubted that she would ever be able to learn to read at her age. We encouraged her to get through the struggle of the first few lessons, which was compounded by the embarrassment of others watching on. As it turned out, Sufia was one of our fastest learners ever – she went from unable to recognize letters, to reading sentences fluently in just one month. At the next parent-teacher meeting the teacher offered her an inkpad to make a thumb impression, but Sufia reached instead for a pen, with a big smile on her face!


The first students to become literate using DEVI Sansthan’s program were three cousins. Each one of them had their own struggles with school, which had kept them from literacy. Inama was a diligent student but found it difficult to rote memorize the letters. Heena was a quick learner but spent most of the day doing domestic chores, and thus had little time for study. Meanwhile Muskan suffered from a liver ailment which kept her from attending school. Despite these difficulties, each of the three girls learnt to read in just 1 to 2 months. Their efforts showed us from the beginning that the dream of literacy for all is really possible.

Inama, Heena & Mushkan

Rehana is a 7 year old girl from a very poor family. They’ve seen great misfortune in their lives, and rarely gets the attention she needs, so she often skips school and has terrible behaviour. However, when we started the literacy program with her, her attention was focused, even though she could only recognize two letters at first. Since then, her focus has been amazing – though it took her three lessons to understand how to join letters together, today she is reading fluently.


Shania, 9, was not enrolled in school when we first met her. Her father often drank, so family finances were tight. Shaniya’s mother also doubted her ability to learn well in school. But Shaniya learnt to read swiftly using DEVI Sansthan’s literacy materials – just a daily 15 minute session several times a week over 3 months. Impressed with this improvement, Shania’s mother enrolled her in the local school. Five years on (at the time of writing) Shania is now a confident young woman in Grade 8.


ALfA & 21st century skills and traits

ALfA seamlessly integrates the 5C Skills leading to 4C Traits of a twenty-first century learner. These 9Cs cannot be taught from a textbook, but rather acquired while working with each other in the  classroom.

5C Skills
  • Competencies foundational literacy and numeracy are learnt swiftly through ALfA.
  • Children develop their creativity and critical thinking through making questions for each other.
  • Children develop their communication and collaboration skills by working in pairs.
4C Traits
  • By working with many different children over the course of a few weeks, students develop their citizenship and character.
  • Climate consciousness is developed through role plays and short stories.
  • Connectedness with each other is key to broader outcomes such as social, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Intrigued, want to learn more?

Watch this 10-minute explanation of ALfA and DEVI Sansthan’s work.

Explore the ALfA materials in 30 languages.

Start teaching today with the Literacy Now app.

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It is an alarming reality that only a third of 10-year-olds worldwide can read and understand a simple written story, leaving a

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    ALfA & Climate Change

    Climate change and illiteracy. These twin evils threaten the future of hundreds of millions of children around the world. We have long ignored these crises. Now there is no time left – we must tackle them in mission mode.

    ALfA is a low-carbon education: children and adults learn to read using just a few thin booklets – that too shared between a pair, and re-used many times. Hands-on learning materials are also locally available and biodegradable – like ice-cream sticks, pebbles and leaves. Better yet, ALfA inculcates love and curiosity for the natural world through short stories and role-plays, which build knowledge and also inspire action.

    Want to learn more?

    Read our report on climate literacy around the world.

    Check out our collection of climate-themed short stories for new readers.

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