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Google India launches Bolo, a speech-recognising app to teach kids read in Hindi, English

Shubham Verma

Bolo, a new app by Google is what the company has envisioned as a part of its efforts to help the children in rural, as well as urban, India in reading textbooks in Hindi and English. Google is going Apple way by focusing on the segment concerned with primary education to uplift the ecosystem by making digital platforms more accessible to rural India. Google Bolo is an app developed by engineers that reads out stories, poems in Hindi, offers puzzles to children so that they can learn right within the app.

Powered by speech recognition and text-to-speech technology at its heart, Bolo app reads stories in Hindi and English out loud, followed by a pause where the user (child or parent) has to repeat the same sentence. The app has a voice assistant called Diya who walks the user through the guidelines to access the app, in addition to offering suggestions. Diya will detect if the child is speaking exactly the way Google algorithm have defined the speech rate for children aged between 5 – 10. If there are any inaccuracies in speech, or the speech rate drops below normal, Diya will remind the child to buck up.

On completing a successful delivery of a speech, Diya rewards the user with points that will determine the progress of the child in the app. The complete performance of a child can be reviewed in a separate section called the report card, which is available for both the child and the parents.

Google is also taking note of the user privacy, which is why the app will not collect any personal information of the user entered into it. However, Bolo app will register anonymous data such as what books and words are being read, usage time, the frequency of the words in the app the child is taking so much time to read.

Zohair Hyder, a Google engineer, recalled some of the stories he gathered while surveyed families of different income levels in rural India to understand the hindrances the children face in getting the primary education. It s the lack of immediate supervision at home that becomes a barrier in learning the basic words in Hindi or English. Here s when Bolo, Google says, comes to the rescue using its interactive interface. The app, which is now available to download via Google Play store in India only, comprises both Hindi and English content such as short stories, poems, and quizzes that children aged between 5 to 10 can interact with.

Capable of running offline, Bolo app comes with 16 pre-loaded books, out of a library of total 90 books, 50 of which are in Hindi and the rest in English. The app is intended to reach over 1.5 million schools in India with about 250 million enrolments, said Nitin Kashyap, Product Manager at Google India. According to Kashyap, Bolo app was piloted between October 2018 and January 2019 in semi-urban and rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, which is one of the states with the highest number of Hindi speakers in India.

Google has partnered four non-profit organisations – Pratham Education Foundation, Room to Read, Saajha, and Kaivalya Education Foundation to expand the material provided inside the Bolo app. Kashyap said the company is also hoping to partner NCERT and other educational systems

The pilot programme included 900 children receiving primary education in 200 villages of Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh with the help of ASER centre. The survey was bifurcated into two groups – control and treatment. While the children kept in the control group showed only 40 per cent growth in their reading skills while the ones in the treatment group remarkably attained a score of 64 per cent. The findings included 92 per cent of parents noticed that their children showing improvement in reading skills while 95 per cent of the parents agreed to keep using the Bolo app if it s accessible on their Android phones.

Google is leveraging the high penetration of entry-level and budget Android phones in rural India to disseminate Bolo app. Available on phones running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher, Bolo app weighs 15MB and is accessible to both children and their parents. Not only the children are able to learn how to read Hindi and English letters and words, but parents have also shown interest in brushing their skills up with the help of Bolo app, Kashyap said.