Cell Phones Promote Literacy in Developing Countries

UNESCO has published a report explaining how mobile technology is used to facilitate reading and improve literacy in developing countries.

The report, Reading in the Mobile Era, highlights that hundreds of thousands of people currently use mobile technology as a portal to text. Findings show that in countries where illiteracy rates are high and physical text is scarce, large numbers of people read full-length books and stories on rudimentary small screen devices.

The report, the first-ever study of mobile readers in developing countries, provides valuable information about how mobile reading is practiced today and by whom.

Worldwide 774 million people, including 123 million youth, cannot read or write and illiteracy can often be traced to the lack of books. Most people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not own a single book, and schools in this region rarely provide textbooks to learners.

Yet the report cites data showing that where books are scarce, mobile technology is increasingly common, even in areas of extreme poverty. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that of the 7 billion people on Earth, 6 billion have access to a working mobile phone.

UNESCO’s study of mobile reading was conducted in seven developing countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Drawing on the analysis of over 4,000 surveys and corresponding qualitative interviews, the study found that:

  • large numbers of people (one third of study participants) read stories to children from mobile phones;
  • females read far more on mobile devices than males (almost six times as much according to the study);
  • both men and women read more cumulatively when they start reading on a mobile device;
  • many neo- and semi-literate people use their mobile phones to search for text that is appropriate to their reading ability.

The study is intended as a roadmap for governments, organizations, and individuals who wish to use mobile technology to help spread reading and literacy. The report recommends improving the diversity of mobile reading content to appeal to specific target groups such as parents and teachers; initiating outreach and trainings to help people transform mobile phones into portals to reading material; and lowering costs and technology barriers to mobile reading.

Download the full report here


  1. This is amazing to know. I live in one of the third world countries and I have noticed that the amount of people who use the phone is increasing dramatically. I think the use of social media applications such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook on the Cell phones have contributed too. If the old generation is using these technology, with a lot of eagerness in advancing the way they are using it, then the cell phone technology will have a bigger impact in the concept of literacy.
    – Egbal Mohamed, Technology Coordinator and Computer teacher at Khartoum American School

  2. Yep…..but cell phone messaging has contributed to poor spellings!!! kikikikiki,
    – Kenneth Muzata, Lecturer, University of Zambia

  3. You are all correct – technology of the 21st century – but we do need to continue to teach about technology etiquette! We utilize BYOD – in our school – but we need to continue the learning of Formal Writing as well!
    – James P. Bouché Ed.S., Principal at Lakeland Union High School

  4. Good spelling is nice, but it is minor compared to getting ones thoughts expressed.
    One year ago I spent three weeks in Ghana and two in Cameroon. I was amazed at the number of mobile phones. (I had lived in West Africa before the invention of mobile phones.) But I could not tell how many were used for reading rather than talking, messaging, Skype, Facebook, etc. My guess would be that those I saw on the streets were for communicating. I wonder if teachers assign readings to be done on the phones.
    – Earl Strassberger, Computer Educator at Niles Township English Language Learners Center / Soccer Coach- CoachesAcrossContinents

  5. My students use cell phones in class only when I tell them and in case of necessity. But it is amazing to see how skillful they are using all kinds of applications related to this technology.
    – Rosa Dakhmouche, Enseignante-Chercheur chez Université Constantine 1(ex-Mentouri University)

  6. This is all very exciting but we need to be cautious about the proper spelling as well as technology etiquette. I am a high school teacher and I have seen a change where formal writing skills are needed to be reinforced very seriously. How would they know how to write a business letter ?
    – Quilda Macedo, High School Teacher at Cambridge Public Schools

  7. Unfortunately the report is not accessible. Please let me know if it is possible to include the link to the report.

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