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The Pubbly Story: Forging New Paths in Literacy

Pubbly has an epic mission — to expand and reinvent the early reader's journey, reintroducing joy in place of what can often be frustration and boredom. Pubbly’s evolution, stemming from its early history as part of Curriculum Concepts International (also known as CCI), showcases both a formidable background in the science of reading and the dexterity and energetic “visioneering” of a tech start-up. Pubbly is here to change the way we see children’s books, and more broadly, upgrade the experience of building early literacy using thoughtful technology and engaging content.

In this — the second article of a six-part series introducing Pubbly's mission to modernize the availability and accessibility of good stories for all — we trace the company's exciting history and explore the bright future it envisions for the young learners it serves. Once you experience Pubbly, you'll share our excitement. Since everyone loves a good story, let's begin.    

The Genesis of Pubbly

To understand Pubbly, we need to start 40 years ago when Curriculum Concepts International was born. The market trend at the time was to water down textbook content to create mass market programs, which yielded a larger ROI but reduced diversity and educational richness. Using such programs, there were few, if any, options to customize the learning experience for individual students. CCI never advocated for this monolithic approach and, over the years, championed customizable, engaging, and intentional educational content for diverse young audiences (reflecting the people and culture of any given region). And it worked. 

Several years ago, CCI wanted to enrich and upgrade some of its print-based instructional materials to digital formats, but neither of the two primary options in existence at the time — flat PDFs or very involved coding for online platforms — truly met the need. Rather than bending education design to accommodate coding requirements or settle for the rather dry experience provided by PDFs, CCI began to develop a new technology system to empower creatives and bring static content to life with purposeful animations, audio and video support, and a wide variety of other features. Shortly thereafter, the first Pubbly was born.

Pubbly & XPRIZE

It was Pubbly's Founder & Executive Chair, Joshua Powe's parents, who created CCI. Powe's father was fascinated by education in remote countries, especially across the continent of Africa. When he learned about Global Learning XPRIZE — a grand challenge sponsored by the XPRIZE Foundation, Google, and Elon Musk, he was immediately intrigued. The fundamental premise of the challenge was to encourage teams of educators and technologists from around the world to create a technology-driven solution (in the form of an app) that was capable of teaching early literacy and numeracy in any language to children who lacked access to basic educational resources, such as books, teachers or even a school. It was a perfect challenge for his passion. 

Along with over 700 teams, CCI entered the contest with heart and mighty determination. Competition ranged from well-established companies already deeply entrenched in solving the global accessibility problem to research groups from leading universities around the world. Necessity gave birth to inspiration; six months from the completion date, with tons of creativity and content developed, Josh Powe and Susan Darwin successfully lobbied for Pubbly to be the technology platform to deliver CCI’s entry in XPRIZE. Pubbly’s no-code architecture satisfied the need for rapid development and scalable production, but also presented itself as a market solution with global potential.

In four months' time, the CCI/Pubbly team completed 3000 different learning activities while swapping out voiceovers and images for region specificity. In large part because of Pubbly's approach to the initiative — creating an innovative platform to easily adapt content for any audience, in any language, rather than a singular product — CCI became an XPRIZE finalist and received $1M in funding to create educational resources for kids across the world. Pubbly branched off from CCI in 2022 and has continued its mission to share the joy of reading with children ever since. 

Pubbly's Mission

While many places in the world suffer from low literacy, the United States faces a particular challenge. Literacy is non-negotiable in the U.S. for working wages, which makes the startlingly low rates even more perplexing and problematic.

Did you know, according to Literacy Network:

  • 67% of 4th graders read below grade level.

  • 34% of kids entering kindergarten lack the basic skills to read.

  • 43% of the adults in the United States are functionally illiterate.

In a country that mandates reading for even the most basic jobs, these statistics expose the widespread – and false – social assumption of fundamental literacy. The truth is that many of our students and citizens are struggling with poverty, inequity, and lower socioeconomic conditions, all contributing to illiteracy. 1. Lack of support in a child’s early years snowballs. Students who fall behind in kindergarten, cautions Regis College, "make up the largest portion of school dropouts." 

With its current digital library and educational resources for kids, Pubbly seeks to provide an answer to these troubling realities and focus on the early years of literacy development deemed most critical by educational researchers.

Pubbly is committed to having a portion of its content available for free to make the program more accessible to young learners of all socioeconomic backgrounds and regions. Josh Powe says, "We feel there are ample opportunities to develop solutions for challenges in our own backyard while still being thoughtful about where else we can add value around the world. In remote parts of Africa, fostering early literacy may represent a pathway out of traditional society, but in the United States, it is a pathway into society, and in many ways, we believe the latter represents an even more pressing need.” 

Powe went on to share Pubbly’s vision of empowering children to create a sustainable future from advocacy born of literacy: "We're hoping to bring back the joy of reading and give people, give children, particularly those who are struggling, a reason to actually want to read."

Meet Pubbly

Pubbly was created to put a tool of ingenuity into the hands of local creatives and authors to empower readership. This philosophy places powerful, child-centric, interactive learning resources into the hands of children and those who help raise them. Pubbly is positioned uniquely to provide online education resources for parents — whether animated stories, learning games, or other interactive activities for kids — to help support their children in a scaffolded approach to acquiring the skills to be literate early in life.

Pubbly is dedicated to having a portion of our animated books, educational programs, and games FREE and open to early learners everywhere. Sign up now to view on desktop or download our Pubbly Player on iOS, Kindle, or Android.