Here’s an app that ‘gamifies’ news for children

A photo of a cell phone showing "KidzByte," which is billed as the country’s only news app for children.

Confronted by an online landscape where children are more prone to engaging on YouTube than reading, a Mumbai-based startup is attempting to "gamify" current events to make daily news more attractive to students.

Chetan D'Souza, co-founder of KidzByte (which bills itself as the country’s only news app for children), said he aims to increase news readership among children between the ages of 5 to 15 by offering rewards whenever they read news content.

"There is really no other choice if we want to get children motivated to read news. Recognition is another aspect of the rewards. It is the only way to create an informed electorate of the future," D’Souza said.

Although internet use in India has risen by 18 per cent annually over the past two years, studies have shown that the activity of child users is largely restricted to social media and harmful practices such as accessing adult content.

A 2018 Kaspersky Labs report, based on data collected via the 'Parental Control' features on their 'Safe Kids' cybersecurity software, revealed that of a sample size of 60,000 Indian children, over 40 per cent searched for streaming video and audio content such as those provided by YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Music and Spotfiy. Another 13.8 per cent searched for social media and 2.8 per cent searched for adult content.

Children are mostly opting for visual and audio interactions, at the cost of reading, D’Souza explained.

This emerged in a survey of 2,000 schoolchildren (aged 7 to 17), during which he said he found that 70 per cent preferred their phones to television, and that over half spent more than two hours a day on their phones.

D’Souza said his app taps into this preference for online use by offering students a system of rewards and recognition. News content categorised as current events, sports, entertainment, science, weird and whacky, and careers and education is aggregated from various sites and simplified for consumption by children.

"Each article is capped by a quiz, accompanied by contests, the scores of which are tied into a leaderboard, where top scorers are entitled to win prizes such as gaming consoles and other electronics," he said, adding that students can also file 'news reports' from their schools.

This strategy has been adopted by several international platforms, including National Geographic Kids and the US-based News-O-Matic, albeit without the prizes offered by KidzByte.

By the Numbers

Out of the 61,444 users registered on the KidzByte app as of August 3, the greatest number of users were from Maharashtra (16 per cent), followed by Delhi, with 15 per cent of the users. Karnataka stood at the fourth spot, with 6 per cent, including 3,687 users from Bengaluru.

D’Souza said the app platform would be expanded in Bengaluru by October.

The high lure of online

A 2017 PWC report discovered that YouTube accounted for 30 per cent of the time children spent online, with the average time spent on the platform amounting to four to five hours per week.

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