Free e-books for young South Africans during lockdown

Web browser developer Opera has partnered with non-profit-organisation (NPO) Worldreader to offer young South Africans free e-books during the nationwide lockdown.

SA began its three-week lockdown at midnight today following the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), with confirmed cases surpassing 1 000.

Opera and Worldreader say they are looking to keep young South African minds stimulated during the country’s lockdown by giving them access to an expanded range of e-books via the Opera Mini browser.

Starting this week, Worldreader will offer a new selection of e-books to Opera Mini users as well as a new mobile Web app designed to offer reading material tailored specifically for young adult readers.

Worldreader is a global NPO that provides people in the developing world with free access to a library of digital books via e-readers and mobile phones.

Since 2010, when the organisation was founded, 12.1 million people across 47 countries have read from Worldreader’s digital library of thousands of e-books, it says.

Opera is a freeware Web browser for Microsoft Windows, Android, iOS, macOS and Linux operating systems, developed by Norwegian-based Opera Software.

The company recently told ITWeb it is looking to build data centres in SA this year.

With 6.93% market share in Africa, Opera is the third most popular browser on the continent after Chrome (70.14%) and Safari (8.93%).

The regular version of the Worldreader app provides e-books for young readers and features hundreds of books for learning and pleasure, in categories including learn, health and career, the NPO says.

It says over 100 000 people make use of the platform each month, with new readers joining every day. The new app – BookSmart – from Worldreader, offers a wide variety of e-books dedicated to children.

Both apps can be accessed from the Opera Mini browser, by tapping on the Worldreader speed dial icon. Users will then be able to access the new children’s version of the BookSmart app.

“When considering ways to mitigate learning loss in a pandemic, it should be a top priority to address supporting reading skills and engagement with books, bridging the gap until schools are in session again,” says Rebecca Chandler Leege, Worldreader’s chief impact officer.

“Through mobile technology, we can support the distribution of e-books and attend the needs of millions thanks to the massive reach of the Opera Mini browser in Africa.”

According to UNESCO, as of 24 March, 82% of the world’s learners had been shut out of traditional schooling and education programmes due to social distancing.

In response to the global health crisis, UNESCO is supporting the implementation of large-scale distance learning programmes and recommending open educational applications and platforms that schools and teachers can use to reach learners remotely.

Since 2015, Opera and Worldreader have successfully promoted literacy worldwide, with greater attention in Africa to enable millions of people to read free books. There are, however, several barriers in certain African communities that hinder access to online educational materials, especially when schools are shut down, the organisations say.

They note that high data costs, lack of access to mobile technology, and slow mobile network connectivity are some of the challenges faced by these communities when accessing educational content online.

“Mobile data is still very expensive in most parts of Africa, hence the Opera Mini browser’s popularity in the region. Its ability to reduce Web page sizes and save up to 90% of users’ mobile data has enabled even more people to connect to the Internet,” says Jørgen Arnesen, head of marketing and distribution at Opera.

“We believe that millions of children and students can benefit from our partnership with Worldreader by now being able to access educational online content while the COVID-19 outbreak lasts.”

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