Mobile Devices Can Dramatically Improve Literacy Rates In Developing Countries, Says UNESCO

A new report by UNESCO says that mobile devices can boost literacy rates in developing countries, potentially reaching almost all of the world’s population. Furthermore, an expensive tablet or smartphone is not necessary. In fact, many e-book readers use featurephones.

The report surveyed 5,000 people in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. “In places where physical books are scarce, mobile phones are plentiful. And while mobile phones are still used primarily for basic communication, even the simplest phones are a gateway to long-form text,” says the report, which was created in partnership with Nokia, which is still pegging a significant portion of its business on featurephones, and Worldreader, a free mobile reading platform that targets markets in Asia and Africa.

The report, which was released to coincide with World Book Day, cites data from the United Nations that says more than 6 billion people have access to a working phone, which it claims means that 6.8 billion people, or most of the world’s population, can potentially have access to reading material.

Just 18% of respondents said that data costs hindered them from mobile reading because e-book platforms. The report says that Worldreader Mobile can compress data and reduce cost of reading to just two to three cents for every 1,000 pages read. Of the people surveyed, only 18% said the cost of data was a concern, while 50% said they never worry about the price.

The report also found that girls and women in particular are benefiting from easier access to reading materials and read up to six times more than boys and men. Though 77% of mobile readers are male, women spend more time reading, or about 207 minutes per month. Men, on the other hand, spent 33 minutes per month. One-third of parents surveyed said they read regularly to their children from their mobile phones.

But there is still a lack of interesting content available and 60% of respondents said they consider that a barrier to reading on mobile devices. Popular genres, based on clicks per menu item on Worldreader Mobile, is romance, followed by books about religion. The most popular search terms were Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm, and Twilight.

Worldreader was founded in 2010 by David Risher, a former executive at Microsoft and Amazon, and Colin McElwee, a former marketing director at Barcelona’s ESADE Business School. Its goal is to provide more than one million mobile users with access to free e-books by the end of this year.

Photo from Worldreader’s Facebook page