Google on Wednesday unveiled its new Bolo Android app that is a speech-based reading-tutor app for rural kids to give access to a good education support system. It is first released in India. The app is now available for free via Google Play and can work offline.
The government-back school system in most Indian states gives a lot of hope. This is often the only available platform to get education in rural areas as well as for children from financially struggling families. Google hopes to change that by the use of smartphones, which are quite a common sight, in rural areas as well.
“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,” Google’s statement says.
An exclusively built app for native Hindi-speakers in its current avatar, the Bolo app helps the children improve their Hindi and English reading skills by encouraging them to read aloud. It comes with a large number of engaging stories, which the company hopes, will help the children in improving their comprehension skills. The app is designed to make sure that children don’t need any help in using it and can read all by themselves. Google notes that all the reading material on the app is free and it is working with other companies to bring more content to Bolo. The app relies on Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech technology.
The company says the app includes an animated digital assistant called Diya. This assistant can read the text out loud for the children and even explain the meaning of the English text. Diya can speak English as well as Hindi, and will encourage the kids by giving them compliments when they finish a task.
Further, the app can be shared among many kids and provides a personalised experience to all. So, if a family has two siblings, they can both use the app and track their individual progress.
Given the app is going to be used by children, there is the important question of privacy. Google notes that it does collect images and voice data from the app but that is stored locally and is meant to help in the functioning of the application. In addition to this personal data, the search giant will also be collecting other anonymous information like device information, usage statistics, preferred language, reading and search history, and other settings. More details on Google’s data collection from the Bolo app can be found on the company website.
“With the help of ASER Centre, we have been piloting Bolo across 200 villages in Uttar Pradesh, India, over the past few months,” Google wrote in a blog post. “Early results are very encouraging, and we found that 64 percent of children showed an improvement in reading proficiency in just 3 months.”
Bolo app can be downloaded from Google Play and works with all Android phones running KitKat or above. It comes with 16 preloaded stories and more can be downloaded. The overall size of the app is less than 50MB, which includes the speech modules and the entire experience.