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Study: Where Books Are Out Of Reach, Mobile Phones Are Improving Literacy

More people are using their "rudimentary small-screen devices" to read books, according to a new UNESCO study.

[Image: Flickr user whiteafrican]

Q: How do you promote literacy in parts of the world where books are rare and expensive? A: Give 'em cellphones.

A new study from UNESCO, the United Nations's agency responsible for promoting education and communication, found that more and more people in countries including Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Pakistan are using their "rudimentary small-screen devices" to read books, and the literacy rate is improving accordingly. The study released Wednesday found that a third of the 4,000 participants are using their mobile phones to read books—and not just, say, text messages.

Book scarcity is a real problem. Even in upper middle-income countries like South Africa, 51% of households own no leisure books, and 7% of schools have no libraries whatsoever. Mobile penetration, on the other hand, is growing at an astonishing rate in Africa, hitting 80% as of December. On a phone, an open-access book can cost as little as 2 to 3 cents.