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Mobile Devices Spur a Reading Revolution in Developing World

A study by the U.N. education agency reports a huge growth in adults and children reading books on phones in Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

UNESCO is pointing to a “mobile reading revolution” in developing countries after a yearlong study found that adults and children are increasingly reading multiple books and stories on their phones.

Nearly 5,000 people in seven countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe – took part in the research, the largest study of its kind to date. It found that 62 percent of respondents are reading more now that they can read on their mobile phones. One in three said they read to children from their mobile phones, and 90 percent of the respondents said they would be spending more time reading on their mobile phones in the next year.

“The study shows that mobile reading represents a promising, if still underutilized, pathway to text,” says the report, for which UNESCO partnered with Worldreader – a global not-for-profit organization that works to bring digital books to readers around the world – and Nokia. “It is not hyperbole to suggest that if every person on the planet understood that his or her mobile phone could be transformed – easily and cheaply – into a library brimming with books, access to text would cease to be such a daunting hurdle to literacy.”

The report’s author Mark West said the key conclusion from the study was 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,” West said.

“It can really change people’s lives,” said Worldreader’s Nadja Borovac. “We work in countries where there is a serious shortage of books but where cellphones are plentiful … We are hoping people will realize the potential of mobile reading [as a result of the report], and that governments and partners will get behind not only us but other organizations using mobile technology to help provide learning and books, and help improve literacy skills.”

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