On Wednesday, Google India launched a tutoring mobile app ‘Bolo’ to help young children read and practise their literacy skills.
The internet giant said it created Bolo app to forward its philanthropic efforts.
“We believe technology has the power to help transform teaching and learning; hence, we have been actively directing our products, programmes and philanthropy to ensure that all students are able to benefit from it,” said the company’s Product Manager Nitin Kashyap and Bolo’s Engineering Lead Zohair Hyder.
How does Bolo app work?
Google India said the app is designed for primary grade students.
It contains speech-recognition technology, text-to-speed features, and an in-app reading buddy, ‘Diya’.
Diya, an animated character, explains, corrects, and encourages the child as s/he reads aloud. She can also define unknown words and help to increase the child’s vocabulary, besides explaining English words in Hindi.
“Like a personalised reading tutor, the app assists them at every step, giving positive and corrective feedback,” says Google India.
The objective of Bolo app is to help children learn how to read by themselves. It provides them with a variety of free reading material sourced from Storyweaver, available in Hindi and English.
The company said Bolo will be available in other languages over time.
The reading difficulty of these stories increases over time, allowing the children to ease into tougher literature at a comfortable pace.
Google India explains that children can test their ability by playing word games and earning rewards and badges.
Multiple children can use Bolo app and track their progress individually. The app also works offline and is ad-free.
Tackling child illiteracy in India
Google India said it has been piloting Bolo in 200 villages in Uttar Pradesh over the past few months.
“Early results are very encouraging; we found that 64% of children showed an improvement in reading proficiency in just three months,” said the tech company.
For the next six months, Google India will be working with four non-profits—Pratham Education Foundation, Room to Read, Saajha, and Kaivalya Education Foundation—to expand their efforts in child literacy.
“Working together with parents, teachers, and the broader education ecosystem, we hope Bolo will contribute in shaping the future of India’s young learners and readers,” said Google India.
The company references the 13th Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 survey that evaluates children aged between five and 16 on their basic reading and arithmetic skills. It looks at 596 districts and evaluates 5,46,527 students.
ASER 2018 found that, since 2016, only 73% of students in standard eight can read a standard two-level text.
It also found that the percentage of students in standard three who can read a standard two text was only 27.2% in 2018.
Another troubling fact is that only 50.3% of standard five students can read a standard two textbook.
The survey also found that the percentage of standard five students who can do division correctly upped from 26% in 2016 to only 27.8% in 2018.
But children from Assam, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh showed significant improvement in this section.
ASER 2018 revealed that 44% of these standard eight students can solve a 3-digit by 1-digit division problem correction. This figure has declined from 2016 to 2018 in many states.
However, children enrolled in government schools in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu showed some improvement in maths skills.
ASER’s report card
There isn’t much difference between boys’ and girls’ learning abilities at a national level; ASER, however, found that girls outperform boys in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal, Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
ASER shows that while poor reading and arithmetic skills persist in government and private schools, the former are improving fast.
The fact that students are graduating to higher standards but are unable to do the work of lower standards is extremely telling of the state of Indian education.
Educational institutions in the country have often come under fire for outdated syllabi and perpetuating a culture of rote instead of critical thinking.
But the failures of Indian education are now manifesting in children whose reading and arithmetic skills are below par.
While the lack of basic comprehension skills will impact the Indian workforce in the future, it will also have severe effects on the lives of these children themselves who will soon struggle to complete basic tasks, like apply for government documents and open bank accounts.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.