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mEducation: How Mobile Phones Can Empower Education in the Developing World

Wayan Vota


Mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous in the developing world – almost everyone can get access to simple voice and SMS text messaging phones. With the introduction of $100 Android smartphones, real computing power is coming to mobile phones at a price point that can be affordable for educational systems.

One powerful smartphone per teacher, or a combination of voice/SMS phones and smartphones for teachers and students, have the potential to actually achieve the unfulfilled technology saturation promise of One Laptop Per Child.

But before we get lost in the possibilities of mobile phone usage in the classroom, lets look at the practicalities – programs that are already using existing mobile phone technology to reach educational objectives inside and out of the traditional classroom. In this month’s Educational Technology Debate, we’ll look at several mEducation initiatives where mobile phones are reaching and teaching students across the developing world:

Yet these are not the only mEducation projects. Please be sure to add your favorite use of mobile phones for education in the comments below. We’ll collect all the examples for a mEducation directory at the end of the month.

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15 Responses to “mEducation: How Mobile Phones Can Empower Education in the Developing World”

  1. I am sure many here are not aware about a school in India in Mumbai using IPod in school the name of the institution is Universal School who support smart learning and teaching in the premises from primary to secondary and above they use Apple devices from IPod to Ipad to Mac laptops. Just to share a glimpse I attach a video from youtube for all
    [youtube o3feu_9YTC0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3feu_9YTC0 youtube] I do agree it is excellent to use technology after all ICT has Information using Communication to meet technology but we forget the “C” and its importance of it in ICT.
    With over 2 decades of experience in education domain I still feel left out from facts as sharing is missing, I found that this forum has expert professionals who are bringing forth technological advances why not join the band. I am sure we all will understand that if we want quality we have to pay for it but with technological advances and virtualisation and cloud computing costs are reducing each day. I know there is great amount of light at the end of the tunnel and we all should reach out for that.

  2. I do agree it is excellent to use technology. The cost of devices and application will be reduce with volume. The services of the operators and devices factories can extend the uses. It is a real choice to PC watt consume in the developing countries and the energy resources of the World.

  3. The whole distinction between cell phones and netbooks seems to be disappearing. My current Android phone (a Nexus One) is powerful enough to be used as a computer. I would only need a dumb docking station, USB/Bluetooth+keyboard+screen, to be able to use it as my main “laptop”. Or, my netbook only needs a GSM dongle to be used as a regular phone. I heard ESR (Eric Raymond) talk about that in an episode of The Command Line Podcast. He predicts that netbooks and laptops will be replaced by smartphones+cheap docking stations. There is a lot of logic in that.

  4. bonjour à tous,
    ces exemples prouvent l'apport que le téléphone portable peut avoir en éducation. mais à coté de cela quels sont les inconvénients. je vais vous surprendre dans le système éducatif camerounais, l'utilisation du téléphone portable est interdit par les apprenants en milieu scolaire et un arrêté du Ministre des enseignements secondaire existe à cet effet.
    sur le plan pédagogique des réaménagements doivent etre faits pour une intégration de cet ouitil dans le processus enseignement apprentissage.
    bien vouloir nous communiquer les inconvéniants de cette utilisation et les avantages

  5. The CSIR Meraka Institute in South Africa has been doing a lot of R&D in the mobile learning space here in South Africa. Using funding from our Department of Science and Technology we developed the MobilED project, where, for example, we piloted the concept of an audio wiki in 2006 – initially enabling children from disadvantaged schools to look up information from Wikipedia. A child would send a search term via SMS to our server, which would get the information from Wikipedia, make a phone call to the child and then use a speech synthesizer to read the article. The child could then use the cellphone keypad to navigate to various sections of the Wikipedia article. The child was also able to dictate his/her own information and it would be appended to the article as an audio file. It worked really well, but unfortunately cost was an issue – we couldn't get the mobile operators to provide free SMS's or phone calls and since these were really poor schools, that ultimately made it not financially viable (and with the rapid proliferation of feature phones, other options are opening up). A lot of the code, which we open-sourced, went into UNICEF's RapidSMS platform.

    We are also driving the Dr Math mobile tutoring system. We use volunteer students from local universities to tutor children in the afternoons and evenings on mathematics (and now also other subjects). The children access Dr Math via MXit, South Africa's most popular mobile instant messaging service (or any other instant messaging platform) and the tutors provide help via a web environment on PCs. It's been tremendously successful and we're in the process of taking it through a technology transfer process, so that it can be expanded nationally. We're also about to start a big drive for additional tutor volunteers, so that we can support matriculants who write their final exams in just over a month (we've just had a teachers' strike which has played havoc with preparations).

    We're working closely with the SA Department of Basic Education, who have been very supportive of our research into the viability of cellphones as learning tools. The main problem is resistance in the schools themselves because of the perception that cellphones are a disruptive influence. However, we believe strongly in the concept of using technology that is already in the hands of children – it makes sense on so many different levels!

  6. Alex Twinomugisha

    A report earlier this year from Sida looking at mobile phone applications in East Africa (see http://upgraid.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/sr2010… for full report) noted that most educational mobile applications, at least in this part of the world, are "administrative." A popular application is this region is using SMS to check for national examination results (a sign perhaps of a previously dysfunctional system of getting access to one's results?). Tanzania seems to be the leader in the East African region in the "m-learning" space with the BridgeIT and ICT BITES projects. Kenya has an application that avails past national examination questions in various subjects (reading-for-exams culture drives students to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing past examination questions in the belief that, well, this is a good indicator of questions to come!). Nevertheless, I believe that mobile applications have real potential in the education sphere. Distance education is (should be) an immediate beneficiary (acknowledged by the Sida report as one area of education already benefiting from mobile applications) connecting students with teachers and with each other. With smartphone handset and data connectivity costs coming down in this region, delivery of rich multimedia and other content directly to the students is becoming a reality.

  7. The real power is that Smart phone technology is scalable so this lower cost technology will spread beyond phones to tablets and laptops, electronic books and paper. We can already support pupil self-assessment and teachers in social networking style, directing assessment for learning using digital evidence. That can be sampled for external quality assurance and so accrediting learning can be integrated with assessment for learning and the BITES project in Kenya demonstrates this can be made affordable even for those that are currently entirely excluded.

  8. The GSMA Development Fund has just released its new report mLearning: A Platform for Educational Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid. It explores how mobile devices can be used as an intervention tool to extend the reach and raise access to educational resources at the base of the pyramid. The GSMA hopes its initial thoughts and findings will catalyse the growth of mLearning in the future. The key areas highlighted in the report are: The current challenges facing learning todayThe benefits and opportunities afforded to and by mLearningAn interesting selection of case studiesRecommendations for Mobile Network Operators and how to get involved. This report summarises GSMA’s findings on past developments and the current landscape of mLearning in the developing world through research and interviews with MNOs, technology vendors, foundations and the academic community. It is not intended to be an exhaustive evaluation of the global mLearning market, but rather a summary of activity so far and, more importantly, some guidance and ideas for future development. Download mLearning: A Platform for Educational Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid

  9. Everyday we hear of challenges facing Education through the use of ICT.

    This latest handphone thing is no different. Handphones can be useful in many ways but not all the ways needed for effective education to solve the world's EFA or what's not. It will go the same way as OLPC hype.

    In the end the small handphone will remain a handphone more suitable for communication than anything else. Mobile access is too expensive to make it useful for long time to come.

    • Godfrey Mayende

      Challenges provide opportunities and this is why I would think that Mobile phones can provide opportunities to developing countries. Today call rates are going down every day and time will come when we will make calls for free. In Uganda, this has already started since Telecom companies have introduced free calls within same telecom network, as technology educators how can we use this opportunity to propel mLearning further.

  10. Mobiles are there, yes. Why not use them? Uganda has one of the same operators as Rwanda. We use the service for educational content.

  11. Really a great article and its easy to see that you didnt just copy it!


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