International literacy Day

UNESCO marked September 8 as International Literacy Day in 1965. Since then, this annual occasion sees schools, organisations and communities working to nurture literacy around the world. The objective of the day is to raise awareness about increasing accessibility to literacy for those most disadvantaged.  In celebration, 3D Printworks would like to discuss how our industry, the 3D printing industry, could be mobilised in aid of this cause.

3D Printed Learning Aids

A research project which features 3D printing and literacy development took place at the Seoul National School for the Blind in 2016. After observing that many visually impaired students aged 3-5 lacked fundamental literacy skills, the faculty at the school began to experiment with 3D printed resources.

Hangul Braille Stencil (source:The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research)

One of the learning aids printed is this Hangul writing stencil. This item uses braille to help students identify Korean characters. These items being 3D printed is important as it allows customisable learning aids to be cheap and accessible.

Removing obstacles for disadvantaged children is always positive and this project has helped conceptualise how 3D printing could help meet the educational needs of such individuals. The results were promising, improvements in "grip power" were observed in students using the aids. This is essential for literacy, being practiced in gripping a pencil improves students ability to communicate and express themselves.

Braille Cube

Inspired by these efforts, 3DPrintworks have decided to print our own learning aid. We want to demonstrate how simple and useful 3D printing can be for this application. The tool we printed is a braille version of a phonetic literacy cube. We found this design on Thingyverse from user Sauer. The cube is a simple puzzle used to teach visually impaired children aged 4-8 literacy skills. The aid features 3 cubes connected by a twistable join. Each face of each cube has a different braille pattern which correlates to a letter in the alphabet. By twisting the cubes into sequence, you can create 16 real and nonsense 3 letter words in a CVC (consonant vowel consonant) combinations.  

Braille Cube (source: Thingyverse)
Our 3D printed braille cube

In the office we have had a lot of fun solving the puzzle and learning braille as we do so. It is great to see 3D printing’s potential for interactive education first hand. We printed the cube using our "Dark Grey PLA". It is easy to customise the letters,  If you look on the Thingyverse page you should see an app on the right marked “open in customizer”.

This will take you to an extension which allows users to easily input the letters you would like to appear in braille on the cube. This extension directly alter the CAD design to do so. This feature demonstrates why 3D printing is essential to the advancement of special needs education. The ability to customise these learning aids in such a user friendly way enables carers and educations to cater to the specific needs of students easily and quickly.

As pointed out in the afore mentioned research article

“customized learning materials are often difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to produce”.

Additive manufacturing technology allows for relatively cheap manufacturing of small, specific items and in doing so enables more people to get tailored support. We have exampled literacy, however  almost all subjects can benefit from 3D printed visualizations. Biology and 3D printed enzymes or Maths and this 3D printed “parabola manipulative” for instance.

All these manifestations highlight the world changing usefulness of 3D printing. A whole new dimension of interactive teaching is being opened for young people, just imagine how different education would have been for you if technology like this was accessible during your time at school. The possibilities for 3D printing in education seem endless. The way it can make education more inclusive by enabling disadvantaged students is particularly promising and we would love to see more applications of 3D Printing within schools.

Information about how you can make this happen in your local school institution can be found here.


In the spirit of international literacy day, I would like to conclude this article with a shout out to the fantastic work Scottish Libraries have done to increase access to 3D printing in communities across the nation. Since 2016 every Scottish library service now offers 3D printing . Dundee Central Library was the first UK public library to offer the service, which has been used to print book characters which are used to support creative writing and storytelling for people with learning disabilities.

3D Printworks offers professional printing services to make your projects a reality. If you work in education or have a business or project you think may benefit from 3D printing then please contact us here and a member of our team will guide you through the processes from concept to creation.

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