Norway-based Opera Limited has partnered with Worldreader to expand access to ebooks for children and students in Africa via Opera Mini, one of the world’s leading browsers, during the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting this week, the international nonprofit organization will offer a new selection of ebooks to Opera Mini users as well as a brand new web app designed for children, the software company said in a press release.

The goal is to bridge the learning gap created by the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic that has led to the closure of schools, businesses, and lockdown of entire countries across the globe. As of March 24, 82 percent of the world’s learners have been shut out of traditional schooling and education programs due to social distancing, according to UNESCO.

Noting that school closures caused by the global health crisis can result in significant learning loss for students, the UN agency is supporting the implementation of large-scale distance learning programs and recommending open educational applications and platforms that schools and teachers can use to reach learners remotely.

“When considering how 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,” said Rebecca Chandler Leege, Worldreader’s Chief Impact Officer. “Through mobile technology, we are able to support the distribution of ebooks and attend the needs of millions thanks to the massive reach of theOpera Mini browser in Africa.”

The regular version of the Worldreader app provides ebooks for young adult readers, featuring hundreds of books for learning and pleasure, in categories including Learn, Health, and Career. Over 100,000 people already read from it each month, with new readers joining every day. The new BookSmart app from Worldreader, however, offers a wide variety of ebooks dedicated to children.

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 children’s version of the BookSmart app. The WorldReader web app is also available here.

Promoting literacy since 2015

Since 2015, Opera and Worldreader have successfully promoted literacy worldwide, with greater attention in Africa to enable millions of people to read free books. But there are several barriers to accessing online educational materials in some African communities, especially when schools are shut down. High data costs, basic phones, and slow mobile networks are some of the main difficulties in accessing educational content online. 

“Throughout Africa, mobile data is very expensive and the Opera Mini browser is massively popular in Africa due to its ability to reduce web page sizes and save up to 90 percent of their mobile data”, said Jørgen Arnesen, Head of Marketing and Distribution at Opera. “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.”

There are more than 437 million internet users in Africa, per the Global Digital Report 2019. This presents a great opportunity to increase online reading, particularly when one in five internet users in Africa chooses Opera browsers every day. “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 Chandler Leege.

Digital solutions are key for keeping children and youth reading

For children and youth, reading can support literacy skills, 21st Century Skills, work preparedness, self-help, and health education while also offering the opportunity to visit worlds beyond their own while their own worlds are limited by social distancing. 

The Worldreader app gives readers access to one of the largest catalogs of free ebooks available. In 2019,  nearly one million out of the 1.6 million people in Africa read free digital books thanks to the availability of the app via the Opera Mini browser. BookSmart offers children and their parents books curated especially for them.

Digital solutions are key to keeping students reading while schools are out of session. With the Worldreader apps, children and the youth can maintain reading skills, learn new subjects, and enjoy the escape books provide during this pandemic.

Working with partners globally, Worldreader supports vulnerable and underserved communities with digital reading solutions that help improve learning outcomes, workforce readiness, and gender equity. Combining 21st-century technology, a library of culturally-relevant digital books in 52 languages, and integrated support – Worldreader helps millions of children and youth across the Global South read. 

Over the past 10 years, Worldreader has reached more than 13 million people in communities where paper books, including storybooks and textbooks, are scarce. Worldreader supports programs in five regions (East and West Africa; Latin America; Middle East-North Africa; and South Asia) while readers across 47 countries benefit from our digital library. Since 2010, Worldreader has distributed over 40 million digital books to readers around the world.

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