INOVASI works closely with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research & Technology (MoECRT) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs to support the learning needs of disadvantaged children across Indonesia. As with many countries, Indonesia is increasing its efforts to maximise educational benefits through digital technology.

To extend these benefits for children with disabilities and learning difficulties, INOVASI sought to explore options for education technology for the large number of children with dyslexia and other factors causing learning difficulties. INOVASI invited a small Melbourne-based company, Bookbot, to adapt their English-based app for use in Indonesia. Working with INOVASI, MoECRT, the Association of Dyslexia Indonesia and schools, Bookbot developed “Bookbot Indonesia” – an interactive application to support children learning to read Bahasa Indonesia.

​​Bookbot differs from other reading apps by listening to a child read aloud using speech recognition, assisting their reading and tracking fluency and accuracy. Bookbot provides access to a large offline library of diverse levelled phonics books for mobile phones with limited storage. Student fluency and accuracy data is made available to the Bookbot Indonesia Reports app, where teachers and parents can track reading progress over time.

The main aim of the reading application development program is to provide a technology-based reading tool to assist children with dyslexia in Indonesia who face reading difficulties. However, the application is useful for children in general to improve reading skills. The app can be used independently by children at home using mobile phones or other devices and is intended to be integrated by teachers in classroom activities.

An early technological challenge was to train the app’s artificial intelligence to recognise children speaking Bahasa Indonesia with a variety of different accents from across the provinces. This required collecting 1,000 hours of children’s voice data as they read the books in the app. All of this data has been used to improve the speech recognition of the software. In fact, the speech recognition of Indonesian children reading now in the app performs better than Google and Alexa, and will continue to improve as more children’s voice data is recorded.

There are some important inputs from the teachers who assisted their students in the voice recording steps. Most children were exciting with the application as they felt it’s as a digital game. The children were motivated to read and read again to get more stickers that are given when they finished in reading a book. They found that the books in the application are interesting, and enjoyable to read. Most teachers reported that the application improves the students’ literacy as well as their reading habits. The children, than, share the books story to their friends. The parents supported this program by providing or lending devices to their children for reading the books that actually recording the reading voices.

Both teachers and parents are happy as this program could make  students moved from the digital games to the reading application. The average of 81 books were read by the children in the range of minimum 12 to maximum 191 books were read in two weeks.

“Dengan adanya aplikasi Bookbot, anak saya jadi lebih sering membaca dan jarang main games di handphone” (Tiara, Housewife)

“Di sekolah saya kekurangan buku bacaan, dengan Bookbot membantu menambah bahan bacaan untuk murid-murid saya belajar membaca” (Emilia, Teacher in NTT)

Most challenges in the use of the app are linked to the internet connection and the devices capacity. Some children complained for losing their stickers, although some were back. Another challenge identified was the need to minimise the size of the application so that it would be feasible on different devices with limited memory capacity and internet access. The Bookbot developers worked hard to achieve technological solutions for this and managed to bring the app size down from over 1 Gigabyte to 300 MB and to enable the app to operate offline.

It has been critical to link Bookbot Indonesia to Indonesia’s new curriculum. The tailored, individualised learning approach, which the app is based on, is a perfect complement to the curriculum, which focuses heavily on teaching at the right level. Children are able to read books which are levelled for their requirements, and then progress smoothly into more difficult content, directed either by the Bookbot application itself, and or by the teacher or parents.

As part of the process of developing an application that encourages children’s curiosity and love of reading, the developers have worked with teachers to come up with incentives and rewards within the app that children love. The app now includes various elements of gamification, which are constantly being improved.