Mobile phones in the developing world to boost e-learning

Mobile technology is an essential part of western life, from communicating, interacting through social media, to even making purchases. However mobile phones are not just for the economically fortunate and are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in poor countries, which now account for four in every five connections worldwide. Mobile technology has changed the way of living, and in Kenya phones have become an integral part of cash transfer schemes, enabling poor people in urban areas to buy food.

Livelihoods have become dependent on technology, whether rich or poor, but how can they be used to further improve people’s way of living? This is the issue discussed by authors of the report, ‘Shaping the future – realising the potential of informal learning through mobile’, prepared by the mobile industry body GSMA and published to coincide with the e-learning Africa conference in Cotonou, Benin.

The report explores the many possibilities that mobile technology can bring to the education of young people in developing countries. The study looks at Ghana, Morocco, Uganda and Maharashtra, India, and focuses on young people’s aspirations and priorities whilst identifying the employment challenges they face and the quality of their education and scrutinising their mobile phone use.

The aim of this study was to provide evidence that there is an opportunity for the mobile industry and international development community to pool their expertise to create an m-learning service that could improve teaching and learning and therefore promote long-term development.

The enthusiasm for learning was a common attitude within the study and mobiles are already being used to improve student’s levels of learning. One student from rural India, told GSMA researchers, “in class I sometimes record the lectures on my phone so I can listen to them later in case I forgot or don’t understand. I can use the calculator to help me with maths. My favourite subjects are maths, science, history and economics. If you could get these on your mobile it would be good.”

Arguments have been made towards the initiatives presented in the study, claiming that mobile learning could threaten to undermine traditional teaching methods and by leaving those without access to devices at a disadvantage.

However, John Traxler, Professor of m-learning at the University of Wolverhampton, UK, believes that this is a misguided argument stating that if the majority have mobile  phones then it is reaching an audience that would potentially of not received any form of education.

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