Google launches ‘Bolo’, a new speech based reading-tutor app

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Report by Rashmi Ranjan Parida; New Delhi: Aimed at bridging the learning gap in education, Google today launched a new app ‘Bolo’ that parents can download to help primary grade children improve their Hindi & English reading skills. The beta version of Bolo, launched in India first, is optimised for native Hindi speakers, and uses Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech technology. It comes with a built-in fun and helpful reading buddy, “Diya”,  that encourages, aids, explains, and corrects the child, as they read aloud. Designed to work offline, Bolo is available today on the Google Play Store, in India, for all smartphones running Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and higher.

 As per the annual ASER 2018 report, of all students enrolled in grade 5 in rural India, only about half of them can confidently read a grade 2 level textbook. Lack of reading ability can significantly impact further education, and ultimately children’s ability to realize their full potential. While the reasons behind the lag in learning levels are varied and complex, limited access to quality materialunder-resourced infrastructure, and barriers to learning outside the classroom, are amongst the primary ones.

 Nitin Kashyap, Product Manager, Google India said, Bolo is designed as a reading-tutor app that helps primary grade students to improve their reading anytime, anywhereWith Bolo, we aim to encourage and engage kids so their love for reading grows and it becomes a daily habit. We believe that technology can be a powerful enabler, and we want to ensure that students, parents, teachers and the education ecosystem, benefit from it. We have been piloting Bolo in 200 villages, and the early results are very encouraging.  We are now actively working with a number of nonprofit partners to take it to more people across the country who could benefit from it.”

 Zohair Hyder, Engineering lead for Bolo said, “We all have our own personal experience and know that reading aloud with someone giving 1:1 feedback helps improve reading skills.  Many children, especially those in rural India don’t have this support. With Bolo we wanted to bring a similar experience to anyone who needs it, via their smartphone.”

 Bolo helps children in many ways:

  • Read all by themselves: Just like a personalized reading tutor, the app assists them at every step, giving both positive and corrective feedback.
  • Choose from a large variety of engaging stories: All the reading material on the app is completely free and the initial catalogue from Storyweaver.org.in includes 50 stories in Hindi & 40 in English; with more being added soon.
  • Enjoy as they learn: Children can also play interesting word games and earn in-app rewards and badges, helping reading become both fun, and a daily habit.
  • Improve at their own pace: Multiple children can use the same app, and track their progress separately. Over time the difficulty level of recommended stories adjusts to their reading skills.
  • Understand English better: Diya – the reading buddy in the app can not only read out the text to your child, but also explain the meaning of English text in Hindi.
  • Read without distractions (and without data too): The app works even when offline, so children can just focus on reading, and is completely ads free.
  • Stay safe and secure: The app has been designed with children’s safety and security in mind and all personal information always stays on device.

 Google has been piloting Bolo with over 900 children in 200 villages in Uttar Pradesh, India, with the help of ASER Centre. The results are very encouraging, with 64% of children showing an improvement in reading proficiency in just 3 months. You can read more about the pilot results here.

Google will be working closely with four non-profit partners including Pratham Education Foundation,  Room to ReadSaajha and Kaivalya Education Foundation – a Piramal Initiative, who have extensive experience of working in this space to take Bolo to more children, and further expand their efforts across India. More partners can also join in.