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Fighting illiteracy with e-books: There’s an app for that

Monday, 28 April, 2014

The San Francisco-based non-profit organization Worldreader distributes e-books in poor countries. Its app, which has more than 300,000 users in the developing world, lets people choose from over 6,000 e-books on low-end mobile phones, and Worldreader says it’s delivered nearly 1.7 million e-books since its launch in 2010.

A new UNESCO study (PDF 1.6MB) based on interviews with 5,000 Worldreader app users looks at reading habits in seven countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe — where the average illiteracy rate is 34 percent among adults and 20 percent among children, and the conclusions are uplifting. Snippet:

280414reading “The tendency of digital reading to increase overall reading is not limited to Worldreader Mobile users. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in the USA observed that the overall reading consumption of individuals tends to increase following the adoption of digital reading. The Pew report shows that, over the course of 12 months, users reading e-books read 24 books on average, while the average number of books read by non-e-book readers was 15 (Pew Internet, 2012). For champions of literacy this trend is extremely promising, as it suggests that the benefits of mobile reading are exponential and may accelerate literacy development.”

Without a decent educational system, greater access to books won’t necessarily raise literacy levels, but greater access to books can nurture a love of reading and writing and expose readers to unimagined new worlds. UNESCO puts it like this: “While it is true that books, by themselves, will not remedy the scourge of illiteracy, without them illiteracy is guaranteed.” The Worldreader e-book initiative deserves our support.


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