SMS Story

SMS Story

Children have improved reading ability by up to 30% thanks to a project that delivers daily teaching aids to educators via SMS.

SMS Story phonics lesson

Empowering teachers with innovative lesson plans that accelerate learning

Whilst India has managed to get nearly every child who should be in primary school (97%) into a classroom, evidence shows that the amount of quality learning actually happening there is low. Forty per cent of children who’ve completed four years of schooling still can’t read and write.

Rural and remote schools face even greater challenges, making do with fewer resources. Children aren’t leaving school with the basic English literacy that can raise their incomes by 34% in modern India.

In 2015, VSO trialled a project designed to improve 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, Kethuda Block school

With the support of institutional and corporate partners, we know SMS Story can reach thousands of children in the coming years. Due to the scalability of the project’s design, there is also potential to reach millions more across India.

VSO India Trust is also looking to corporate partners to support this next phase by sharing professional expertise, innovations and technology that can help take SMS Story to the next level.

Download the SMS Story pilot impact assessment report [PDF]

Developing effective, scalable resources

SMS Story India Alison Gee | VSO

Education specialist volunteer Alison Gee developed the phonics resources in close partnership with a content team from Pratham, our primary partner on the project.

This ‘story’ in 35 installments was developed to both progressively introduce new sounds and concepts, and keep children interested and engaged in learning.

Flashcards and an SMS poster were also produced, and selected teachers given two days of practical training in how to best utilise the resources.

SMS and Whatsapp were also used in the later stages of the pilot as a platform for teachers engaged in the project to exchange best practice and support each other in a peer network.


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

The project now has expanded to Delhi, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.