For centuries books have illuminated our imagination and sparked debate. But in this age of digital innovation, technology is now being used to underline the power of the written word.

In recent years, traditional book publishing has been transformed by the emergence of more readily-available – and increasingly-affordable – digital technologies, including tablets and e-readers.

In the United States, for example, which has a population of around 326 million, more than 88 million people owned an e-reader in 2017, with this figure expected to top 90 million by 2019.

And although print publishers still command the majority of book purchases, while promoting educational initiatives such as World Book Day, digital is also providing opportunities for millions more people around the world to improve their literacy skills.

 

 

Electronic impact on children

A four-month research project conducted by the National Literacy Trust in 2015 found that e-books have a positive impact on children’s attitudes towards reading.

The findings, which are based on attitudinal data for 468 pupils and attainment data for 800 pupils, show that among boys reading levels increased by an average of 8.4 months, while girls made an average gain of 7.2 months.

The data also shows using technology increases pupils’ enjoyment of reading. According to the NTL, the number of children that enjoyed reading electronically increased from 68.1% before the project to 74.3% afterwards.

 

Teaching the next generation

Unsurprisingly, digital reading is becoming an increasingly common feature in the classroom, with more and more teachers turning to e-readers and tablets to help educate children.

The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, most children are digital natives, they have grown up with touch-screen technology and understand its mechanics. This is not to say children do not know how to interact with print, rather that they have a similar intuition for digital. This is something their parents may not have had when they themselves were younger.

Secondly, digital reading makes it possible to carry thousands of texts in the palm of your hand. Through Apple’s iBooks repository, for example, books from a number of major educational publishers, as well as from the world’s foremost authors, can be downloaded.

And thirdly, tablets can foster more interactive learning and complement traditional reading techniques. Through tablets, teachers and students can download apps to encourage reading, help explain and learn language, and create bespoke storybooks.

 

 

Leveraging technology to improve global literacy

Literacy is a luxury enjoyed by billions of people. According to UNESCO, around 83% of the world’s population is now literate, which is a vast improvement from the early 1950s, when under 40% were.

However, while most people now count themselves as literate, around 796 million people still cannot read or write.

More than a quarter (27%) of India’s 1.3 billion population are unable to read or write. Fortunately, free education is now being delivered to those living in hard-to-reach areas, such as urban slums and rural villages.

The Computer-Based Functional Literacy solution, which was developed as part of Tata Consultancy Services’ adult literacy programme, is empowering tens of thousands of people in India and beyond.

The CBFL solution works by focusing on words rather than the full alphabet. The software uses a combination of animated graphic patterns and sound to improve recognition, retention and recall of words.

It is designed to teach people to read, write and do basic arithmetic in just 50 hours – that’s about six times faster than traditional teaching methods.

Research by University of Delaware professor Rachel Karchmer-Klein has identified a correlation between the use of technology and improved literacy development.

Explaining the research, Karchmer-Klein says: “The role of technology in our professional and personal lives cannot be understated. We must recognize how it redefines what it means to be literate in today’s society and learn to leverage its affordances to provide students with meaningful learning opportunities.”

Access to digital innovations, like TCS’ CBFL solution, will help consign illiteracy to the history books, enabling many more people around the world to experience the joy of reading.

 

World Book Day, which takes place on 1 March, is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) reading.