From education to employment

College app helping address adult literacy


A new smartphone app which supports adult literacy learners has been launched in Apple and Googleapp stores. 

The Citizen Literacy app has been developed by City of Glasgow College in partnership with leading literacy experts and software developers from across the UK.  

It has grown from the college’s successful City Phonics programme which offers a first step in literacy for the adult beginner learner. 

Diane Gardner, Head of Applied Research in Adult Literacy at City of Glasgow College, said: 

“This is a milestone moment in what has been an incredible journey. Our thanks go to Ufi Charitable Trust, and UK innovation foundation, Nesta, who funded the Citizen Literacy consortium, our team of experts who have worked together to produce the UK’s first app to help teach adults how to read and write English.  

“There has been an astounding degree of interest in our work across the UK and globally. We now have a growing list of national and international educators who wish access to the app and its associated classroom resources for their tutors and students.”  

The app is specifically designed for low literacy users so traditional text-driven interfaces are not used. It uses voice and handwriting recognition technologies for learner input, and features virtual tutor voices who provide information and directions to learners. Adopted AI tools tune the app to an individual user’s local accent, making it more inclusive.  

Liz North, who worked with Nesta as Programme Manager, said: 

“This is a brilliant note for me to leave Nesta on. The CareerTech Challenge, supported by Nesta and the Department for Education, was designed to help adults upskill and reskill in an uncertain market. The Citizen Literacy App is a wonderful example of innovation in the programme – using high-fidelity technology to support low-literacy learners, raising their seldom heard voice.” 

The first five lessons out of a total of 30 are now freely available in the Apple store, on Google play, and also through City of Glasgow College’s website. No registration is required, there are no adverts, and no personal data is recorded. 

“It was important to us that the app was free,” said Diane. “No-one should have to pay to learn their own language. One in 28 people in Scotland lack literacy skills,” said Diane. “Being able to read and write is the best thing in the world and it’s so very important. We need it to be able to do our jobs, to interact, to live our lives as fully as possible. It opens up the world to people.” 

One of Diane’s students who tested the app prototype added:

“The app is fantastic. It’s clear to follow, instructions are easy to understand and the human voices are calming and helpful. I was able to work through the lessons without any issues. I’m looking forward to being able to read household bills and letters on my own, not having to wait until someone comes home to read them to me.” 

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