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Google helps kids to read with Bolo

At a Google for South Africa presentation in Sandton this week, Google announced the local availability of a reading app that works offline and on Android Go. BRYAN TURNER reports.



Google’s newly launched reading app, Bolo, uses the power of voice recognition to help children to read aloud. The app features a simple design that’s easy to navigate, making strong use of iconography to lead users to where they need to be without having to read.

It comes with a personal reading tutor, which sounds identical to the Google Assistant, to help students along their reading journey. The speech-based technology builds on Google’s strong pre-existing speech recognition technology used in Google Assistant. As students speak, the assistant can help them by correcting them and spelling out words when they need help. When they get a line right, they are encouraged to continue.

A major win for this app is that it works offline and on low-cost Android phones, which means readers can use the app at almost any time.

The app was tested in India, where Google collected analytics to assess global expansion possibilities.

Google says 64% of kids who used the app showed an improvement in reading proficiency.

Google’s head of public policy, Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, says over 800,000 children from over 28,000 towns and villages have read 3-million stories so far.

“Bolo is a Hindi word which means ‘to say’,” says Mgwili-Sibanda. “The app has a helpful, AI-powered assistant called Diya, who encourages children to read out loud, just as they naturally do. She also provides customised feedback to encourage children to read well, and helps them when they get stuck.

“My son is turning three this December and he’s using this app. He absolutely loves it when Diya compliments him. Those who know him also know that he’s very stubborn, so when Diya says that he’s wrong he wants to fight with Diya, but Diya always wins.”

The app is locally available for Android and Android Go platforms for free.