Hawaii Literacy Has Worked For Years To Build An Effective Strategy - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Brandon Kurisu

Brandon Kurisu is the president of Hawaii Literacy’s Board of Directors, serves on several additional nonprofit boards, and is the president of aio Digital, a family of digital companies and investments.

A recent opinion piece, “Hawaii Has A Literacy Problem. Here’s What we Can Do,” referred to Hawaii Literacy in the context of illiteracy in our community, including some photos of our Bookmobile. We appreciate being mentioned as a leading provider of literacy services locally.

However, as Board President of Hawaii Literacy and from my years of experience in Hawaii’s technology business arena, I’d like to respond to several of the author’s points.

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Yes, Hawaii has a literacy problem. We can’t talk about equity without talking about literacy. Illiteracy is one of the most significant underlying challenges for our community. One in six adults struggle to read and write, which impacts every aspect of their lives and closely relates to increased poverty, negative health outcomes, government dependence, and less civic engagement – for themselves and future generations. 

Assertion: “Measures to improve the problem have emerged, but one piece of the puzzle has been missing so far: technology.”

Response: Technology can play an important role, and Hawaii Literacy engaged technology well before the pandemic.

For years, we’ve operated computer labs at our Family Literacy Libraries at Kuhio Park and Mayor Wright Homes and implemented educational platforms using tablets in our Bookmobiles. Our pivot in 2020 included making adjustments to in-person programs, moving some programs online, and implementing technology when effective, appropriate and possible.

The pandemic highlighted the gulf between people who can leverage technology and those who can’t. It underscored the reality that not everyone has access to devices and service, or is equipped with the necessary digital literacy skills.

Foundational digital literacy is as essential as basic literacy. Hawaii Literacy is part of the network that’s working toward the Workforce Resiliency Initiative’s goal of connecting 100,000 people to opportunities to develop basic digital skills. Our niche is to ensure that even those who struggle with reading can access the initiative and reach foundational levels of digital and traditional literacy.

We’ve created a digital literacy model to focus on connectivity, culturally informed digital skills training, and access to technology that can be scaled to public housing sites and other organizations that serve low literacy adults.

The disparity of access to technology and the opportunity to develop digital skills also affect 50% of children from low-income communities, who start first grade up to two years behind their peers. Without intervention, this gap progresses between second and sixth grade and accounts for upwards of 80% of the achievement difference.

Assertion: “Although these initiatives are admirable, it’s time to take things to the next level.”

Yes, we need to take things to the next level. But not only by adding more educational technology but by continuing to invest in multi-generational, cross-sector sustainable solutions that include community schools, parent programs, intensive tutoring, community health workers, digital navigators and so much more.

Education and reading level are the strongest predictors of future income — 90% of people who do not have reading comprehension will require state assistance and are more likely to experience homelessness in their lives. Children of low-literacy parents have a 72% chance of reading at the lowest literacy levels and have higher absenteeism, poor grades, or need to repeat a grade. (ProLiteracy).

In terms of educational outcomes, for each year a child reads below grade level, the lifelong consequences and barriers to catching up increase. Children who do not become proficient readers by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school and live in poverty (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2015); 88% of all teens who do not graduate high school struggled to read in their early elementary years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 

Hawaii Literacy Bookmobile parked near Kukui Street.
The Hawaii Literacy Bookmobile is one of the program’s key tools to help bring resources to communities that need literacy resources. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Our Family Literacy Libraries in public housing sites and Bookmobiles serving under-resourced communities fill a priority need for free, accessible, on-site literacy services, and resources for low-income families. Low-income children have less access to traditional libraries and average fewer than 10 age-appropriate books in the home. Even a small home library helps children identify as readers, which in turn impacts their academic outcomes. 

We provide extra resources and support from caring staff and volunteers. The need to support school efforts and increase student outcomes is especially great in the communities we serve, as many parents are unable to give the help their children need with reading and homework. They rely on our programs and other resources from the community.

For the past 50 years, Hawaii Literacy has worked with communities disproportionately affected by high illiteracy and poverty and helped improve their reading, writing, school, and life skills, building the foundation for a better life.

We help connect people to resources they need — whether books, a tutor, technology, training or support — so they can empower themselves to succeed, ending generational cycles of poverty and under-education and helping our communities to thrive.

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About the Author

Brandon Kurisu

Brandon Kurisu is the president of Hawaii Literacy’s Board of Directors, serves on several additional nonprofit boards, and is the president of aio Digital, a family of digital companies and investments.

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Thank you for the very important work you do.

Heliconia · 1 year ago

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