Tech firms expand access to free e-books during Coronavirus lockdown

Browser provider Opera and international non-profit Worldreader are expanding access to e-books for children and students via the Opera Mini browser during the coronavirus crisis.

From last week, Worldreader has been offering a new selection of e-books to all Opera Mini users, as well as a new web app designed for children.

The new app, BookSmart from Worldreader, offers a wide variety of e-books dedicated to children, while the regular version will continue providing e-books for young adult readers.

The Worldreader app features hundreds of books in different categories, including health and careers. More than 100,000 people already use the app each month via the Opera Mini browser.

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

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

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

School closures can result in significant learning losses for students. In response to this 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 promoted literacy worldwide, with greater attention in Africa to enable millions of people to read free books.

However, according to the head of marketing and distribution at Opera, Jørgen Arnesen, there are several barriers in certain African communities to access online educational materials, especially when schools are shut down.

These include high data costs, low-tech phones and slow mobile networks.

“Throughout Africa, mobile data is very expensive and the Opera Mini browser is popular in Africa due to its ability to reduce web page sizes and save up to 90 per cent of their mobile data,” said Mr Arnesen.

“We believe that millions of children and students can benefit from our partnership with Worldreader, and access educational online content while the Covid-19 outbreak lasts.”

According to the 2019 edition of the Global Digital Report, there are more than 437 million Internet users in Africa, presenting a great opportunity to increase online reading.

“The low bandwidth required on the Opera Mini browser means that readers use less data when accessing the Worldreader app – which is vital for youth in remote communities with slow networks,” said Ms Chandler-Leege.

For children and youth, reading can support literacy skills, the acquisition of 21st-century skills, and boost work preparedness, self-help and health education, while also offering the opportunity to visit worlds beyond their own despite real-time travel being limited by social distancing requirements.

Both apps can be accessed from the Opera Mini browser after tapping on the Worldreader speed dial icon. Once accessed, users will be able to access the new BookSmart app. Worldreader currently works in 138 schools and 81 libraries, and has provided access to 1.9 million books.

Source: The Standard

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