Google is going deeper into India with Bolo, which helps primary grade students improve their reading skills. The app is optimised for native Hindi speakers, and will soon be available in other Indian languages.Sohini Mitter
Last month, Google rolled out Bolo, a new app in India. ‘Bolo’ (which means ‘speak’ in Hindi) is a speech-based reading tutor app that helps kids learn to read textbooks. Google says this India-first offering is to help improve children’s literacy levels in the country, especially in the rural North where Hindi is the predominant language. The internet giant is urging parents to download the app to help their children improve their reading skills.
Designed for students aged six to 12, Bolo is powered by Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech technology. It has a built-in “fun and helpful” reading buddy, ‘Diya’, a digital assistant in the form of a human toon. Diya nudges, aids, explains, and assists children as they read aloud. She can even explain the meaning of words. Kids can read all by themselves without parental intervention as Diya serves as a personalised reading tutor anytime, anywhere, offering corrective feedback at every stage.
The Bolo app makes use of both voice and vernacular: two of the 3Vs Google is betting on to bring India’s next billion users to the internet. All reading material on the app is free and the initial catalogue is sourced from Storyweaver. It includes 50 stories in Hindi and 40 in English. Google will be adding more from other partners shortly. Over time, the difficulty level of stories changes as kids make reading progress. The app also allows them to play interesting word games and collect in-app rewards and badges.
Bolo works even in offline mode, and stores all data within the device of the user.
The app hit Google Play Store (India) about a month ago, and recorded over 100,000 installs with a rating of 5 out of 5. Bolo is Android-only for now, supported by phones running KitKat OS and above.
“In its current form, the app is designed and optimised for native Hindi speakers, but will evolve over time for other languages.”
Let’s look at the app more closely.
Bolo asks for audio permissions to begin with. This is because it operates primarily on voice inputs.
The next page is for parents, informing them of the app's privacy policies. Click on ‘I Agree’ to continue. (By default, this page opens with Hindi text. But you can switch to English on the next page.)
The homepage takes you to the day’s lessons or ‘aaj ki padhai’. You can hear Diya’s voice as you land on this page. She announces an estimated reading time: 10 minutes or less.
Scroll through a bunch of stories and select one to read. You can switch to English stories with a single tap on the ‘A’ icon on top. You can go back to Hindi by tapping on the ‘अ’ icon.
You can add stories to your library and save them for offline reading.
Click on a story to start reading.
As you read a sentence, the words are highlighted in green. If you miss a word, they stay black in colour.
You can tap on a word if you need help from Diya. She spells out the word and reads it out aloud. For every sentence read, Bolo rewards you with points.
Every lesson ends with a word game that helps kids improve their spellings.
At the end of each lesson, Bolo displays a score - the number of points collected. Google says this is to keep kids motivated to take daily lessons.
The final tab - Prizes or ‘inaam’ - shows all the rewards and badges collected.
The app also allows parents to monitor their children’s daily/weekly progress.
India’s literacy levels aren’t very inspiring. Research by the ASER Centre (an education nonprofit) estimates that more than half of fifth-grade students in state-run schools across rural India are unable to read even second-grade textbooks.
Google says that over the last few months, it has piloted the Bolo app in such schools across 200 villages in northern India. "Early results are very encouraging, and we found that 64 percent of children showed an improvement in reading proficiency in just three months," the company notes.
Bolo is Google’s attempt to go deeper into India by marrying voice and vernacular. It wants to fix a core issue - learning at the grassroots level.
The app is beautifully crafted with simple graphic cards, colourful illustrations, texts in large fonts, and fun background music to appeal to kids. Users above 10 years of age could very well access the app on their own without any parental guidance.
Bolo is a timely, necessary endeavour. But, the real impact of an app like this would perhaps be felt once it is available in multiple Indian languages.