The proliferation of cheap mobile technology can be leveraged to increase literacy rates in developing countries, according to a UNESCO report titled "Reading in the Mobile Era" released April 23. Over 4,000 people in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were surveyed.
"For centuries, limited access to text has been a barrier to literacy…Today, however this barrier is receding thanks to the spread of inexpensive mobile technology. Basic mobile phone offer a new, affordable and easy-to-use portal to reading material."
Mark West and Han Ei Chew of UNESCO
The report proposed three strategies for advancing mobile reading in poorer countries : providing diverse content for target groups; boosting outreach efforts; and changing policy to lower barriers to mobile reading, such as cost and access to technology.
The survey found that most mobile readers are male, although women read far more and for longer periods of time. Most respondents were younger than 35 and tended to be more educated. Two-thirds said they read on their phones for convenience, while others did so because it was cheaper than books.
Mobile devices are an underused "gateway to text" for marginalized groups, such as women and girls, the report found. Reading on mobile devices also increases how much people enjoy what they read. Nearly two-thirds of those who disliked or hated reading before said they liked reading more on their mobile devices.
The report's primary author Mark West said access to mobile phones doesn't automatically lead to higher literacy rates but should be integrated into educational systems. However, he said mobile devices show great promise for spurring reading among children, beginning readers and older people.