Mobile Technology Literacy Initiative Helps 200,000 Families in India

When Jennifer Young went on a field trip to India for the first time, she discovered something she wasn’t expecting: families have limited access to books.

Jennifer is a key member of Pearson’s Global Campaign Team who has worked to improve literacy around the world. Only 3 out of 4 adults in India can read.

“You’ll walk into a family’s home and they won’t have any print books—but they do have eight phones equipped with data,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer and her colleagues soon had a plan in place:

Use mobile technology to somehow provide books across India—and improve literacy in the process.

The project became known as Read to Kids.

Empowered Parents Empower Children

Read To Kids acts like an online library, offering mobile access to thousands of titles.

Jennifer says the success of the program is a lot bigger than the number of books available through the app—the goal is really to engage parents in the education process.

Indian parents, Jennifer explains, sometimes lack confidence in their ability to read to their children. They worry about the strength of their own language skills.

There’s also a widespread assumption in India that teaching kids to read is the sole responsibility of teachers.

Read To Kids helps bridge these challenges, giving parents the confidence to be more involved in their children’s cognitive development.

“Research shows that the more words children hear at home, the more prepared they’ll be when they enter school,” Jennifer says.

Reaching Communities

The mobile app project uses a complex network of local partners to find its way into the hands of parents. Three key organizations work in tandem with Pearson to expand the project’s reach in local Indian communities.

Parents in India often seek out parenting advice and expertise at family planning clinics. This is important, Jennifer explains, because physicians are trusted figures in local communities. Read To Kids has been training those trusted doctors in partnership with HLFPPT Partners for Better Health to explain the benefits of reading to parents who come in for treatment.

Local reading clinics are also essential to reaching parents and providing access to print books. “The philosophy of ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is alive and well in India,” Jennifer says. These clinics, run by a local NGO called Katha, help parents feel connected to other families through shared experiences.

Read To Kids also harnesses the benefits of the existing education infrastructure in local communities to work with teachers toward the shared goal of improving literacy rates among children. Alongside the Society for All Around Development, Read To Kids trains teachers to educate parents on the importance of bringing the classroom into the home and staying involved in the learning process.

So far, Pearson’s mobile app has reached an astounding 200,000 families.

The Future

After just one year, Read To Kids has already been recognized for its innovative approach to helping parents become their children’s first teachers.

The campaign was recently recognized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation. The mBillionth Award is given to organizations who are bridging the educational divide in formative new ways.

“A lot of rich experimentation is happening in this space,” Jennifer says. “Others can pick up on what we’re doing and start researching and experimenting on their own.”

A Global Effort to Close the Literacy Gap

Read to Kids is just one part of Pearson’s larger Project Literacy campaign. The global initiative was launched two years ago to participate in the United Nation’s goal of closing the world’s literacy gap by 2030.

Today, an estimated 750 million people worldwide remain illiterate – that’s one in ten people.

The power of words extends well beyond the ability to read. Words are the key to life-changing economic and social opportunities. Through initiatives like Read To Kids, organizations can effect meaningful change and break the devastating cycle of illiteracy in communities around the world.