| November 30, 2017

What I Learned About Empowering Women from Our Digital Literacy Program for Kids


Sometimes the biggest impact can come in unexpected ways.  

In October, I had the chance to travel to India with Kate James, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Pearson, to see our Read to Kids program in action. Pearson and Project Literacy are co-supporters of the Read to Kids program and have been our partners every step of the journey to figure out how to get parents and caregivers reading with their children.

Two years into the program, we’ve reached over 200,000 families, which is extraordinary. Given the success of the pilot in India, Kate and I took a trip to meet some of the parents and caregivers who use our Read to Kids app.

When we traveled to Delhi to speak to parents who use the app, we expected and heard how children were benefiting from being read to regularly. The big surprise for us, however, was how their mothers had been impacted, too.  

At a gathering of mothers around the Read to Kids app, one woman named Priyanka described to us her nightly ritual of downloading books to her phone so that they will be available to read to her children the next day. Priyanka told us how she works hard at finishing her chores around the house after her children are asleep, then she walks up the stairs onto the roof of her building where cell phone service is stronger in order to download new e-books for her children.

Pictured: Priyanka sits in the center among a gathering of mothers. She is holding the mobile phone she uses to read to her children.

Another mother, Karishma, shared her personal experience at a community outreach reading session hosted by Katha, a wonderful publishing and community-outreach partner. Karishma explained that because she could now read to her children from a mobile phone, it had given her a viable reason to need her very own smartphone. She told Kate and I that in India it is common for a woman to share her husband’s smartphone, which means being without it all day while he is at work and then using it with his permission when he is home. Karishma stated that the Read to Kids app had become so important in the lives of her children that it caused her to take a step toward owning her own smartphone for the first time.

Pictured: Kate and I meeting Karishma at a community outreach reading session.

India recently surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s second largest smartphone market– a huge milestone. But fewer than half of women have a mobile phone of their own, meaning that if women (and all of society) don’t see a strong reason to have a phone of their own, they may fall behind even as the world is becoming more digital. That would simply not be OK and would represent a massive failure in creating a better future for all.

So even as we work together to expand Read to Kids to reach more children in India and adapt it to meet the needs of communities around the world, we’re also looking to understand and deepen its impact on the women in kids’ lives. Experimenting and innovating means remaining open to the unexpected; smart organizations organize themselves to incorporate those learnings to create the biggest impact possible. We’re grateful to our partners at Pearson and Project Literacy for sharing this ethos of innovation.

Learn more about our Read to Kids program here.