Unesco: Mobile phones are causing a "reading revolution" in poor countries

In the past, access to reading materials meant access to books, but the global spread of inexpensive mobiles is offering new ways to read

When we think of the fight against illiteracy we might imagine old-fashioned chalk boards or large print books, but a recent report from Unesco suggests that a new technology is fuelling a “reading revolution” in poorer countries: the mobile phone.

“While mobile phones are still used primarily for basic communication, they are also – and increasingly – a gateway to long-form text,” reads the report.

“For a fraction of the cost of a physical book, it is often possible to access the same book via a mobile device. And this capacity is not restricted to smartphones.”

The new survey – the largest ever undertaken on mobile reading in the developing world – surveyed the habits of more than 4,000 mobile users in seven countries; Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. The average illiteracy rate among these nations is 20 per cent for children and 34 per cent for adults (average adult illiteracy in the UK is less than 1 per cent).

“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, a director at Worldreader, a non-profit that promotes reading in developing countries and sponsored the study.

“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.”

Recent data from the United Nations shows that of the roughly seven billion people on the planet, more than six billion now have access to a mobile – more than have access to toilets and toothbrushes.

The study highlighted the positive effect of mobile reading on females. Although the majority of mobile readers where male, when women and girls had access they read up to six times more than men and boys.

The Worldreader app offers access to many free texts even on feature phones; with data compression keeping the costs of access down.

"Simply put, once women are exposed to mobile reading, they tend to do it a lot," read the report, highlighting also the importance of female access to reading. Of the 770 million illiterate adults on the planet nearly two-thirds are women, and in many poor countries there remains a stigma against female education.

The report suggests that in some contexts the ubiquity and social acceptability of mobile phones gives women and girls a chance to access reading materials – such as romance novels or texts about sexual health – that they might be barred from in book form.

 Statistics from Worldreader showed that the most popular genre on its mobile app (which compresses data so that access to 300 page novel costs less than a cent) is romance followed by religion, with books popularly searched for including Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet and Animal Farm.

The study also found that despite their expectations, the most commonly perceived barrier to mobile reading was a lack of relevant books – not the cost of access – meaning that encouraging further reading can be addressed by simply offering more content.

The researchers from Unesco and WorldReader also stressed the relevance of the Matthew Effect when it came to reading. This sociological concept (which is named after a portion of text from the Gospel of Matthew) can be simply translated as “those who have get more; those who don’t, get less”.

This somewhat blunt observation holds true for a lot of economic inequality, but for education it’s especially relevant. The more often people read the better readers they become, and the better readers they become the more successful they are in school – benefits that continue to snowball through a person’s life.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tulisa as a judge on the X Factor in 2012
tvLouis Walsh confirms star's return
Life and Style
fashionClothes shop opens on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

    £17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

    IT Support - Hampshire - £24,000

    £19000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

    Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

    £25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

    IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone