From Books to Mobile Devices

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On April 23, 2014, the United Nations education agency published a new report, Reading in the Mobile Era,  on the role of mobile devices in advancing literacy and learning in developing countries. According to the report, even in countries with high illiteracy and low physical text rates, large number of people read books and stories on small screen devices.  The report reveals that hundreds of thousands of people use mobile technology for various reasons, but the primary reason is that it is convenient and easily accessible.  Other reasons include affordability, preference, and lack of access to books.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) points out that 774 million people worldwide, including 123 million youth, cannot read or write, and this is often the result of having insufficient sources.  However, this report shows that even in countries with extreme poverty, mobile technology is increasingly common while books are rare.  UNESCO urges that mobile technology can really help spread reading and literacy around the world, even to those places where books cannot reach. Further, the UN International Telecommunication estimates that of the 7 billion people on Earth, 6 billion have access to a mobile phone.

UNESCO conducted this study in seven developing countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.  The study reveals that large number of people read stories to children from mobile phones.  The study is intended to guide Governments, organizations, and individuals who wish to use mobile technology as the primary source for reading and education. The study emphasizes the importance of improving the diversity of mobile reading content.  In this way, it aims to reach specific target groups, such as parents and teachers.

Mobile technology seems to achieve the result that books were not able to for centuries.  It provides an effective pathway to solve the problem of illiteracy because unlike books, it appears to be easily accessible and at a lower cost.

Based on the result of this study, what do you think the next step that the UN should take in advancing reading and literacy around the world?  Do you think it is good for a child to read from a small screen?  When you compare mobile technology with books, which one would you really choose to read from?

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One comment

  1. While I think the increased use of mobile technology to promote literacy is a wonderful idea, it is definitely surprising to me. It is definitely interesting that these countries in extreme poverty are able to access mobile phones more readily than books. I would have thought books and other learning materials would be cheaper than obtaining, and maintaining, mobile devices. Most of these poverty stricken nations have limited electricity; how would one charge their phone? Is there reliable access to WiFi or cellular waves? What if your mobile device is having technical issues? I doubt that there is a “Genius Bar” in the village that can fix their technological woes.

    I personally prefer reading from a book rather than mobile technology. I would much rather read printed text on pages of a book than read it digitally on an iPad or Kindle. I would rather print out assigned readings than read it from my computer screen, but ultimately printing is costly and accessing materials on the web is unlimited.

    I definitely see both the pros and the cons of introducing mobile technology to enhance literacy. If cell phones and tablets can do the job better than a book and a pen and pencil, then I am for it.

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