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Delivering literacy via SMS

Whilst India has managed to get virtually every child who should be in primary school (97%) into a classroom, evidence shows that at least four in ten children who’ve completed at least four years of schooling still can’t read and write.

VSO's SMS Story is designed to improve Indian children’s English reading, speaking and vocabulary by:

  • Designing a series of English literacy teaching aids taking the form of 160 character instalments in a simple story using a phonics progression
  • Delivering the daily instalments alongside a simple lesson plan to teachers via SMS

The results

At the end of our seven-week pilot in 2015, involving 25 control and 25 active government schools in Bundi, Rajasthan:

  • Twice as many children in the active schools could read at the word and sentence level as those in the control schools (63.1% and 41.7% respectively)
  • Of the children who could read at this level in control schools, just 48% could tell the meaning of sentences, compared with 62% of those in schools exposed to SMS Story
  • Overall, children in active schools, especially those for with a lower initial English literacy level, learned more over the trial period than those in control schools

These achievements were attained at the cost of just 10 paise (0.1p) per child.

When we read the story from our mobile phones it is like something coming out of a magic box for them. The children are very excited about what is going to happen next, what will be the next story. All students are very eager to answer in class now.

Gayatri Prasad Gothaniya, teacher at Kethuda Block school

SMS Story was previously piloted sucessfully in remote and resource-poor classrooms of Papua New Guinea, and is currently being trialled in Bangladesh.


SMS Story, the flagship education programme of VSO India is implemented in partnership with the District Administration of Bundi, Government of Rajasthan and local NGO partner, Pratham.

We are seeking new partners in order to develop and expand SMS Story in India, including corporate partners that can support the next phase of the project.

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