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Introducing ‘Bolo’: a new speech based reading-tutor app that helps children learn to read

Suman, 12, a fifth grade student from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, loves to tell and listen to stories, but struggles to read a first grade textbook by herself. Unfortunately, she isn’t alone. 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. Such lack in reading literacy can significantly impact further education, and ultimately children's ability to realize their full potential.

We believe technology has the power to help transform teaching and learning, and have been actively directing our products, programs and philanthropy to ensure that all students are able to benefit from it. Today, we are further strengthening our efforts by introducing Bolo, an Android app from Google that parents can download to help children improve their reading skills.
Designed for primary grade students, Bolo, powered by Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech technology, comes with a built-in fun and helpful reading buddy, “Diya”. Diya  encourages, aids, explains and corrects the child, as they read aloud -- anytime, anywhere.

Bolo helps your children:
  • 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 by other partners 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 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.
From lots of stories, to constructive feedback from reading-buddy “Diya”, and jumble word games, Bolo helps children learn to read in a fun and engaging way

With the help of ASER Centre, we have been piloting Bolo across 200 villages in Uttar Pradesh, India, over the past few months. Early results are very encouraging, and we found that 64% of children showed an improvement in reading proficiency in just 3 months. You can read more about the pilot results here.

Today, we are excited to introduce Bolo to all children and their parents across India, under an open beta program. Additionally, over the next 6 months we will be working closely with four of our nonprofit partners  -- Pratham Education Foundation,  Room to Read, Saajha and Kaivalya Education Foundation - a Piramal Initiative,  who have extensive experience of working in this space and will be able to take Bolo to more children, and further expand our efforts across India. We hope to learn a great deal more with today’s launch and will continue to make it better as we move ahead.

Working together with parents, teachers and the broader education ecosystem, we hope Bolo will contribute in shaping the future of India’s young learners & readers.

Available on the Google Play Store, in India, Bolo will be accessible for all Android smartphones, running Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and higher.  In its current form, the app is designed and optimised for native Hindi speakers, but will evolve over time for other languages. Find out more about Bolo on https://bolo.withgoogle.com.

By Nitin Kashyap, Product Manager & Zohair Hyder, Engineering lead for Bolo, Google India