October 08, 2018

Stories on a phone help young Indian children to learn

Reading aids critical thinking and prepares children for an increasingly complex world

Photo credit: Worldreader

Elaine Hunter

Early childhood development writer

An app that encourages parents to get more involved in early reading has helped thousands of families in a two-year pilot programme.

A young mum in Delhi plays with her three-year-old daughter in her bedroom – and introduces her to the world of learning with the touch of a button. Her mobile phone is now a vital learning tool. 

“A mobile is a device we carry everywhere," says Shipra Gupta. "I open the app and encourage my daughter to read something. There are stories for all ages - available in English and Hindu.”

She's talking about the Read to Kids app from the global charity Worldreader. The programme was introduced to her community by the organisation SARD (Society for All Round Development) and has reached 177 communities in India. 

Wendy Smith, Director of Early Childhood Programmes at Worldreader, said: “Reading to a child from the time that they are born can have the greatest impact on their life. As a digital reading organisation, we’re always on a quest to discover smarter and higher-impact ways to get more people reading."

More than 200 million children in low- and middle-income countries will fail to meet their developmental milestones and fall behind their peers by the age of five.

Research tells us that a child’s brain is 80% developed by the age of three and 90% by five. That's why Theirworld is campaigning for every child to receive quality early childhood development, including the correct stimulation and information, care and nourishment.

This contributes to poorer educational outcomes later in life. World governments are beginning to realise that the way we raise children - especially young children - is vital to the development of communities and countries.

Worldreader decided two years ago to learn more about how to use mobile technology, combined with relevant content and reading support, to encourage parents to get more involved in early reading.

“Until recently, mobile phones really had no significant track record as reading tools for children and parents," said Smith.

“Together with our partners, Pearson as part of their Project Literacy campaign and Results for Development, we set out to learn more. 

“Recently we released the results from our Read to Kids pilot in India. This report is just the first step of an ambitious journey. But it’s an essential one. 

"The report contributes to a growing evidence base that lays down the groundwork for reaching millions of families around the world with digital books."

Smith said that, during the two-year pilot, they learned about the importance of:

  • Curating the right content
  • Creating engaging messaging
  • Providing the right kind of support to parents and caregivers - both physical and digital
  • Forming international and local partnerships to find the best way to influence parents and caregivers to read to their children.

Mobile phones can be valuable learning tools both at home and in the classroom

Photo credit: Worldreader

“Along the way, we touched the lives of more than 200,000 families and helped 7000 of them change their reading habits and become frequent readers," she said.

“We also found that digital reading is scalable and affordable, Women became important and indirect beneficiaries of the pilot. Hindi and bilingual content are the most sought after by families.”

A total of 550 free books were available on the app - 45% of them in Hindi or bilingual and 55% in English.

Worldreader is building on the success of the Read to Kids pilot by expanding it to conflict-impacted families in Jordan. 

Smith added: "Future iterations of the Read to Kids project in both India and Jordan will further expand on this research, continue to share findings with the emerging community of professionals working in the early childhood and digital space, and make progress towards our shared goal - a world where everyone is a reader.”

Technology can be put to use in creating language skills among young children at homes and in preschools

Photo credit: Worldreader

Technology that is already literally in the hands of parents and teachers can be used to give young children foundational language learning skills. 

And that will greatly increase their learning and school readiness, according to Dr Venita Kaul - former director of the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED) at Ambedkar University in Delhi.

She said: “The Read to Kids pilot combines the ubiquitousness of mobile phones and engaging digital storybooks in empowering parents and caregivers to scaffold early learning for young children.

“The children’s learning environment and the inputs and support they receive in their early years will have an enormous impact on their future – both in school and beyond.”

Theirworld’s work on early childhood development is supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

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