Google today joins the world in marking International Literacy Day (ILD) by upscaling the Read Along app, a speech-based reading app designed to help primary grade kids learn to read – anytime, anywhere.
Read Along, formerly known as Bolo, acts as a personal reading tutor for children. It uses speech-based technology to provide personalised assistance in a student’s reading journey, correcting them when they need help and encouraging them when they get it right.
Students select stories to read from a growing app-based library and earn stars and badges when they read correctly. After an initial download, the app works offline, even on low cost phones, making it more accessible and relieving worries of privacy and security.
The Read Along app now includes improved features that make it easier for multilingual children to switch languages or get phonics support when they tap a word. The app also has more than 700 unique books across all nine languages, including Arabic, with a refreshing new look for the content library.
“Google is taking the education journey back to the basics by providing a digital platform that will make learning to read simpler and fun especially in the light of COVID-19 related school closures,” notes Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, Head of Brand & Reputation, Sub Saharan Africa. “At Google, we believe technology can help children around the world learn how to read to help achieve the goal of basic universal literacy.”
Google will run a global story-a-thon from 8-30 September 2020 to encourage children to bring out their imagination through writing. Through participating, children stand a chance of getting published on the Read Along app. Parents can share stories written by their children during the month of September. Read Along will publish some of those submissions on the app.
UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2020 is Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Schools have remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and parents and teachers are increasingly turning online to find educational resources for children.
Since Read Along’s introduction, children have cumulatively spent more than 3 million hours on the app reading over 32 million stories. Google’s internal analysis, as well as feedback received from parents and children across the globe, is encouraging. Beginner readers register an improvement of between 38 per cent and 88 per cent in their oral reading skills after reading for 100 minutes on the app.
Truecaller Launches Call Reason, SMS Scheduling and Message Translation for 250 Million Users
Building upon its core proposition of making communication safer and more efficient for their users, Truecaller has rolled out three highly anticipated features: Call Reason, Schedule SMS and SMS Translate for users globally.
Truecaller has been the pioneer in the mobile identity space, and has pushed the innovation of Caller ID to great heights. Consumers trust Truecaller to tell them who is calling but now they will also know why they are calling. Call Reason enables users to set a reason for their call, enabling the receiver to check what the call is about, whether the incoming call is personal, business or something urgent. This would increase pick up rates, especially when callers are calling from new numbers.
The new ‘Schedule SMS’ extends the platform’s Caller ID feature to enable users to schedule a message reminder of any events, meetings, or what groceries you need to pick up at the end of the day. Additionally, the SMS Translate feature allows users to instantly translate the content of their messages directly in Truecaller without leaving the app. This feature works for both SMS and instant messages (IM). All these features will be free for all consumers.
Commenting on the feature, Rishit Jhunjhunwala, Chief Product Officer at Truecaller said, “We are thrilled at the launch of Call reason, Schedule SMS and SMS Translate. We have been working towards building an innovative communication suite for our users and these three features are the next big step in line with this mission. Communication in 2020 is easier in many ways, but also complicated by the vast ways in which people connect for information. As a brand, we strive to stay true to the core principle of building a product for masses while always acting in the public interest. We are constantly listening to our users and want to help them by putting more power in their hands.”
About Call Reason
The new Truecaller is bringing your communication home, by organising everything for you more easily and smartly. Call Reason was one of the most requested features in 2020 from Truecaller users around the world. With this, the new feature extends the platform’s Caller ID feature to help users to send a note in their outgoing calls. This would empower users in higher pick-up rates on outgoing calls as the receiver would know “what reason the call has been placed”. Businesses can set a customized text before every call which would increase engagement with their customers .
This feature will start rolling out today to all Android users and will be launching for iOS early next year.
Schedule your SMS
Users can schedule SMS by simply selecting the icon while messaging and choose a date and time. Your message will be sent then, and you will always be able to see it scheduled in your chat. This feature is available for Android users only.
The app automatically detects if a foreign language is used in the messaging screen and will show that a translation is available. This feature is powered by Google’s ML Kit and all messages are processed locally in the phone, which means the content of your messages never leaves your device. Language packs are downloaded to your device before translation begins. Users can also download additional languages to use them offline, anytime and anywhere. SMS Translate will only be available for Android.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s Difficult Road to Recovery
By ABEBE AEMRO SELASSIE, Director, African Department, IMF
The COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented health and economic crisis for sub-Saharan Africa. Within months, the spread of the virus has jeopardized years of development and decades-long gains against poverty in the region while threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
In our latest Regional Economic Outlook, we project -3 percent growth in sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP in 2020, representing the worst outcome on record for the region. The drop will be even larger for economies dependent on tourism and commodity exports. Growth in the region should rebound modestly in 2021 to 3.1 percent, but for many countries, a return to 2019 levels won’t occur until 2022-24.
Countries in the region acted swiftly to protect their people from the worst of the crisis, but lockdown measures came with high economic and social costs. Policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa now face the added challenge of rekindling their economies with fewer resources and more difficult choices.
As the region looks toward the future, uncertainty over the path of the pandemic continues to loom over an enduring recovery.
Confronting policy constraints and hard choices
The top policy priority should be saving lives and protecting livelihoods through health spending and income and liquidity support for households and businesses. Even with limited funds, policymakers acted swiftly with what they had.
However, countries in the region entered the crisis with significantly less fiscal space than they had prior to the global financial crisis of 2008-09. COVID-19 related fiscal support in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 3 percent of GDP—markedly less than what has been spent in other regions of the world.
Advanced economies have had the space to do “whatever it takes.” In sub-Saharan Africa no such luxury exists, as countries struggle to do “whatever is possible” with their scarce resources.
Limited resources will ultimately force difficult choices.
Fiscal policies needed to boost the economy will have to be balanced against debt sustainability—already a daunting challenge for many countries in the region. The need to support growth through monetary policy will need to be matched against maintaining external stability and longer-term credibility. Financial regulation and supervision measures are needed to address crisis-affected banks and firms but should not compromise longer-term growth.
All the while, efforts to stabilize and grow economies must be weighed against the need to maintain social stability while preparing for sustained and inclusive growth over the long term.
Calling on the global community for support
Without significant additional financial assistance, many sub-Saharan African countries will struggle to simply maintain macroeconomic stability while meeting the basic needs of their populations.
The IMF has taken swift action to cover a significant portion of the region’s needs by providing about $16 billion financing this year alone to 33 countries and immediate debt service relief to 22 of the poorest, most vulnerable sub-Saharan African countries. We are working with countries to put in place governance mechanisms to help ensure that the funds benefit their people as intended.
We have also worked with the G20 to suspend debt service payments to official bilateral creditors and welcome the extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative.
But more help is needed. Sub-Saharan Africa faces additional financing needs of $890 billion through 2023. Private financial flows are expected to fill less than half of that need, while current commitments from international financial institutions and bilateral donors will cover only one-quarter of the need. Under that scenario, the region still faces a projected financing gap of $290 billion through 2023.
No country should have to choose between paying their debt or providing food and medicine for their people. To prevent the loss of decades-worth of development gains, the region will need access to more grants, concessional credit, and debt relief.
Looking toward a brighter future
Despite an uncertain outlook, the potential of sub-Saharan Africa and the resourcefulness of its people remain clear. Now is the time for lasting transformational reforms.
Sub-Saharan Africa will find its way back to a path of green, sustainable and inclusive development. The pandemic has presented a historic opportunity to build a better future and the international community has an important role to play.
Fostering better transparency and governance to improve trust in rule of law, strengthen business conditions and encourage external support will be a key element for developing a better future. Transformative domestic reforms to improve revenue mobilization, digitalization, trade integration, competition, social safety nets, and climate-change mitigation will be critical for the region’s resilience, growth and job creation.
Nelson Mandela once said, “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” The long climb out of this crisis won’t come easy, but the actions and choices of today will be vital for a prosperous and resilient future for sub-Saharan Africa.
Culled from IMF Blog
NCC, NITDA Chiefs, Others Confirm Attendance for CEO Impact Forum
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, and Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mr Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi will attend the 2020 edition of the Nigeria ICT Impact Forum (NIICF).
These personalities will join other confirmed high-profile speakers for the event which will hold on November 27, 2020, at the Oriental Hotel Lagos.
Dr. Isa Patanmi. Hon. Min. of Communications & Digital Economy
According to a statement from the organiser and signed by Mr Tayo Adewusi, NCC CEO will deliver the keynote while the NITDA DG will present one of the Lead papers.
The annual event themed 5G: the Future is Here will attract government officials, regulatory bodies, industry players, and all the crème de la crème in the country’s tech space.
Prof. Umar Danbatta, EVC, NCC
Other confirmed speakers include the CEO of VDT, Engr. Biodun Omoniyi, the President of Medallion Communication, Engr. Ike Nnamani, the CEO of MTN, Ferdi Moolman, the Managing Director of Inlaks, Africa Operations, Engr. Femi Adeoti.
Others are the Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone Limited, Prof. Muhammed Abubakar while the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami is the Special Guest of Honour at the event while the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu is the Chairman and Chief Host.
Mr Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, DG, NITDA
Other dignitaries expected at the event include the Plateau State Governor, Rt. Hon. Simon Lalong who is the co-Chairman and the Governor of Nasarawa State, Engr. Abdullahi Sule is the guest governor. The Editor-in-Chief of ICT Watch Magazine, Adewusi, said the Impact CEO Forum is envisioned as the foremost impactful meeting of top-level executives to assess the impact of ICT on their businesses and make projections into the future.
Tayo Adewusi. Publisher ICT Watch Magazine & Events Convener
“It is a must-attend event for those interested in the deployment of ICT to improve efficiency and productivity. This year’s event in keeping with Covid -19 social distancing protocols, it will strictly by invitation and other guests can join via various social media platforms to be provided”. Adewusi added that the event will hold concurrently with the Africa Digital Awards (ADA), through which the distinguished individuals, government agencies, state governors who have been “using the potent power of ICT” to execute differently ideas would be honoured.
He said the Impact CEO Forum offers an opportunity to expand the business network of “contacts, identify potential partners and share experiences and valuable time”.
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