Mobile tech gets parents reading to children, improves home literacy environment

The research revealed how parents' and caregivers' reading habits changed after receiving access to a free mobile library of children's books.

A two-year digital reading pilot has revealed how parents' and caregivers' reading habits changed after receiving access to a free mobile library of children's books alongside community-based education about the benefits of reading to children from a young age.

The report contributes to growing evidence on how parents can support their children's early learning using technology.

The pilot, conducted by Worldreader, the global nonprofit that believes everyone can be a reader, in partnership with Pearson, took place in Delhi from 2015 to 2017 and reached over 200,000 families with digital books via the Worldreader Kids app.

"The first digitally-focused literacy intervention of this kind, Read to Kids leveraged a behavior change campaign and partnered with community-based organisations to raise awareness on the importance of reading to children from birth.

"While the majority of children that the pilot targeted lived in homes lacking age-appropriate children's storybooks, over 57,000 families browsed the Worldreader Kids library and read at least one book. Nearly 7,000 households demonstrated deeper change in their reading habits, becoming 'frequent readers' who read from the application at least four times a month," a Pearson statement said.

Other findings include:

* Digital reading is scalable and affordable. App promotion and downloads cost Worldreader approximately $0.30 per user. This low cost of app promotion coupled with widespread availability of mobile phones in India supports affordable access to Worldreader's digital books. India's aggressive cell phone market translates to low data costs for the end user making online digital reading an affordable option, even for low-income parents. Reading a book a day for thirty days cost the equivalent of two cups of street chai, or about $0.16 per month.

* Women became important and indirect beneficiaries of the pilot. Many women in the intervention group report that access to storybooks and participation in the programme has increased their access to a family mobile phone, led to more investment in cellular data and improved their digital literacy.

Local language books are preferred. Parents prefer books in the mother tongue (Hindi) but English is also frequently read and reflects parental aspirations for early exposure to English. Sixty per cent of the books opened on the app were in Hindi or bilingual and 40 per cent were in English.

*In person, digital and media assets together best foster attitude and behavior change in parents. A blend of digital and in-person strategies is most supportive in normalising digital reading to children.

"Our goal was to take the ubiquitous mobile phone in India, transform it into a great mobile library, and discover how to get parents reading with their children," said Wendy Smith, Director of Pre-Reading Programs at Worldreader.

"This report is additional proof to ways parents can support their children's early learning using technology, and showcases the power of mobile reading for improving early-childhood learning outcomes," she added.

"Research shows that the more words children hear at home, the more prepared they'll be when they enter school. We are proud to take part in the rich experimentation that is happening in this space to ensure we are setting the next generation up for success," said Jennifer Young, Director of Social Impact Programs at Pearson.

"Our hope is that others working to end illiteracy can pick up on what we're doing and start researching and experimenting on their own, leveraging the technology already available to many people around the world," she added.

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