22.04.2014 - UNESCOPRESS

UNESCO study shows effectiveness of mobile phones in promoting reading and literacy in developing countries

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UNESCO has published a report explaining how mobile technology is used to facilitate reading and improve literacy in developing countries. The report was published today, 23 April, on the occasion of World Book and Copyright Day.

The report, Reading in the Mobile Era, highlights that hundreds of thousands of people currently use mobile technology as a portal to text.  Findings show that in countries where illiteracy rates are high and physical text is scarce, large numbers of people read full-length books and stories on rudimentary small screen devices. 

The report, the first-ever study of mobile readers in developing countries, provides valuable information about how mobile reading is practiced today and by whom. 

Worldwide 774 million people, including 123 million youth, cannot read or write and illiteracy can often be traced to the lack of books.  Most people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not own a single book, and schools in this region rarely provide textbooks to learners. 

Yet the report cites data showing that where books are scarce, mobile technology is increasingly common, even in areas of extreme poverty.  The International Telecommunication Union estimates that of the 7 billion people on Earth, 6 billion have access to a working mobile phone. 

Video: Interview with Mark West, one of the authors of the report

UNESCO’s study of mobile reading was conducted in seven developing countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.  Drawing on the analysis of over 4,000 surveys and corresponding qualitative interviews, the study found that: 

  • large numbers of people (one third of study participants) read stories to children from mobile phones; 
  • females read far more on mobile devices than males (almost six times as much according to the study); 
  • both men and women read more cumulatively when they start reading on a mobile device; 
  • many neo- and semi-literate people use their mobile phones to search for text that is appropriate to their reading ability.

The study is intended as a roadmap for governments, organizations and individuals who wish to use mobile technology to help spread reading and literacy. The report recommends improving the diversity of mobile reading content to appeal to specific target groups such as parents and teachers; initiating outreach and trainings to help people transform mobile phones into portals to reading material; and lowering costs and technology barriers to mobile reading.




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