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'Reading culture can change a child's life'

App launched in Jordan to promote reading culture among families, help enhance children's skills

By Camille Dupire - Aug 15,2018 - Last updated at Aug 15,2018

Panelists discuss the benefits of reading for children at the launch of Tuta Tuta at the Haya Cultural Centre on Wednesday (Photo by Camille Dupire)

AMMAN — Aware that an app alone "isn't enough to get a generation  reading", California-based NGO Worldreader on Wednesday launched an innovative reading programme aimed at encouraging frequent reading for young children in Jordan.

"We know that launching an app will not trigger a radical sustainable change, so we really designed this programme as a community based engaging tool to promote the culture of reading among parents and children in Jordan," Director of the Early Childhood Development programmes at Worldreader Wendy Smith told The Jordan Times at the launch event on Wednesday in Amman.

"Tuta Tuta", which was launched in collaboration with many local partners including the Queen Rania Foundation, Jordan River Foundation, I-Learn, War Child, Haya Cultural Centre and the Children's Museum Jordan, includes over 250 Arabic children books available for free on the mobile app.

"I started this NGO with the idea that everyone can be a reader, wherever they are and whatever their social status is," said Worldreader co-founder Colin McElwee, stressing: "We believe that every child should be able to benefit from the power of reading, which can help them learn new words, strengthen reading development and set the foundation for future academic success.”

The app, which will be adopted by a number of local partners, aims to "leverage the widespread adoption of mobile technology, quality digital Arabic storybooks and a behaviour change campaign that uses traditional and digital messaging", a statement by Worldreader said.

Launched following the implementation of a similar app in India between 2015 and 2017, Tuta Tuta is expected to reach around 50,000 families in Jordan within a year, with plans to expand it to the entire region in the future.

“Our hope is that Tuta Tuta will help demonstrate the opportunity mobile technology and quality digital books can have on supporting learning and engaging parents,” Smith said, adding: "This is also why we chose to partner with community influencers like the QRF and JRF as they already have a trusted presence among the communities we seek to target and will help promote a long term behavioural change."

One of the partners of the application, the QRF will introduce Tuta Tuta to eight public schools across Jordan, aiming to explore how digital reading can encourage parents to read regularly to their child at home.

“Engaging parents in reading to children is a key strategy to help improve reading scores in Jordan,” said Ruba Samain, Research and Programme Development manager at QRF, adding that "our partnership with Worldreader is an opportunity to develop a roadmap for how mobile technology, parental involvement in reading and digital books to improve early learning outcomes in schools across the Kingdom”. 

During a panel discussion with local partners, Shatha Habahbih from the Queen Rania Family and Children Centre at JRF, recounted the feedback of some mothers who tried the app with their children, saying "Both the parents and children gave an excellent feedback saying: that, for once, they got to spend quality time with their family, while using their mobile for 'something useful'."

According to national figures, around 95 per cent of the population has access to a mobile in Jordan, most of which are smartphones, Smith said, noting that Worldreader built its programme on the idea that such an opportunity should be harnessed to help children read, ultimately contributing to better performances at school and emotional benefits from positive parent-child interaction. 

"Parents are their children's first teacher, which is why we focused on an app that develops the interaction among family members, whereby parents can enjoy quality time reading to their children while better preparing them for school," Smith told The Jordan Times in an interview.

In his keynote address to the audience gathered at the Haya Cultural Centre, Secretary General of the Ministry of Education Mohammed Okour, said: "More than teaching the young generation how to read, what matters is to get them to love reading," highlighting the need to raise a generation that is "human", "strong" and "following noble values".

He expressed the ministry's happiness "to see so many efforts and collaboration exerted by various partners to tackle the educational issues facing the Jordanian society".

The app, which is available on the Google Play and App stores, will cover a storybook collection of a variety of genres from picture books to fiction, non-fiction, and folktales, among others.

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