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Mobile Phones Sparking a Reading Revolution in Developing Countries

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Mobile phones could boost literacy rates in developing countries, according to a study carried out by UNESCO, in coalition with Worldreader and Nokia.

The study found that quite often, 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 of phones are a gateway to long-form text.

"We now have two years of data proving that people are spending hundreds of hours a month reading short and long form text, using basic feature and Android phones," said Elizabeth Hensick Wood, director of digital publishing and mobile platforms at Worldreader. "As part of this research, we interviewed dozens of individuals, ranging from students to teachers to parents, and all told a similar story: they do not have access to paper books, they are thrilled to now have thousands of free books on their mobile phones and they are now reading more than ever."

The study discovered that women and girls in particular are benefitting from having a new way to access books, reading up to six times more than men and boys, and that parents regularly read to children using mobile phones. The study also shows that a vast majority of people enjoy reading more on their mobile phones, and that mobile reading often reverses people's negative attitudes towards reading.

Contrary to what many may think, only 18 percent of the respondents cited cost, or "use of airtime," as a potential barrier to reading more on mobiles. This is likely due to platforms such as the Worldreader Mobile platform on biNu, which compresses data and brings the cost of reading to roughly 2-3 cents per every 1,000 pages read. Instead, lack of relevant content was cited as the number one barrier to mobile reader adoption by 60 percent of the respondents.

Recent data from the United Nations shows that of the estimated seven billion people on Earth, more than six billion now have access to a working mobile phone. If every person on the planet understood they can turn their mobile phone into a library, an estimated six billion people would have access to books.

"A key conclusion from this study is that mobile devices can help people develop, sustain and enhance their literacy skills. This is important because literacy opens the door to life-changing opportunities and benefits," said Mark West from UNESCO, author of the report.

Photo credit: Jon McCormack for Worldreader

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