Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Use of Mobile Phones in Education in Developing Countries

The World Bank is embarking on a new study investigating issues related to the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries.
The study is intended to help to raise awareness among key decisionmakers in the public, private and civil society sectors about the potential importance of the use of low cost mobile devices -- especially mobile phones -- to help benefit a variety of educational objectives. By documenting the existing landscape of initiatives in this area and emerging 'good practice', it is also hoped that this work will serve as a common base for further analytical work in this area, and inform the impending explosion of development of new hardware, software and business services occurring on mobile devices, to the benefit of these educational objectives.
This activity is one component of a larger 'mobile flagship' program at the World Bank consisting of studies and activities related to mobile services and applications in selected sectors, including “Mobile Banking Users and Non Users Behavior Study”; “Extending Mobile Applications in Africa through Social Networking"; and “Mobile Applications for Sectoral Development”.

Activity Description
Drawing on examples of the use of mobile phones and related handheld technologies for educational purposes in advanced economies like Korea, Japan, the U.K., the United States and Finland, and an emerging evidence base of pilot projects from countries as diverse as Tanzania, Kenya, the Philippines, Mongolia, China and South Africa, this study proposes to:
  1. Map the existing universe of projects and initiatives exploring the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries.
  2. Map the existing and potential uses of mobile phones in this regard, comparing and contrasting such uses with other ICT devices..
  3. Document lessons learned so far from key initiatives in this area, proposing tentative guidance for policymakers and various stakeholder groups in this fast moving area.
  4. Propose a conceptual framework and way forward for further analytical work to aid in the documentation and rigorous impact cost and impact assessment of the use of mobile phones in education.
While ‘education’ is the focus here, the area of inquiry is not be limited to the formal education sector itself. Lifelong learning and educational outreach activities utilizing the mobile phone to benefit the health and agricultural sectors will also fall within the scope of this study. This work will draw heavily on organizations and expertise active in these areas on-the-ground.
The results of this study will be disseminated and discussed at a landmark global event on mobile applications sponsored by the World Bank as part of the 'mobile flagship' initiative, involving sets of key stakeholders from the public, private and civil society sectors.

Background and Context
Going forward, isn't it more likely that the ICT tool of choice for students in developing countries will be the mobile phone, and not the computer?
This is a question of hot debate in many circles. Whatever the eventual resolution of this debate (and no doubt it will not yield a simple either/or answer), there are still precious few widespread examples of the use of phones for education purposes inside or outside of classrooms in developing countries that have been well documented, and fewer still that have been evaluated with any sort of rigor.
28% of Africans now have a mobile phone subscription, according to data released by the ITU earlier this year, part of a larger trend that sees two out of every three mobile subscribers around the world living in a developing country. The flagship ITU publication Measuring the Information Society notes that two-thirds of the world's cell phone subscriptions are in developing nations, with Africa, which has a 2% subscriber rate as recently as 2000, growing the fastest. And it is not only adults who are making use of this new technology. Recent survey work at a low-income high school in South Africa's Samora Machel township (for example) suggests that mobile penetration among youth in some places might be higher than one might suspect.
While the explosive use of mobile phones in developing countries is well-documented -- and undeniable -- and evidence is emerging that phones are slowly making their way into the hands of teens, just what this might mean for the delivery of education in developing countries is a little less clear.

Five years ago infoDev commissioned work to map out what was known about the nascent topic of ‘mobile banking’, and the resulting study, the first of its kind, helped frame the issues for donor agencies, governments, NGOs and private sector firms alike. ‘M-banking’ has exploded since then, and this study proposes to do for the use of mobile phones in education what the earlier infoDev study did for the use of mobile phones in the financial services sector. We are at a similar point now with where we were with m-banking five years ago, and this study will provide guidance for World Bank technical assistance and investment activities related to the much-hyped potential for the use of mobile phones in education. There is an opportunity here to contribute to the global knowledgebase in the very early stages of what is poised to become a potentially massive area of investment by ministries of education, civil society and (especially) the private sector in the decade to come.
Nascent efforts are underway to explore various aspects of the emerging phenomenon of the use of mobile phones in education, but no institution has stepped forward to help catalyze global collaboration and cooperation around research directions and agenda setting in this area. This work will tap the expertise and convening power of a number of key partner organizations and experts active in this area.
This work, expected to run through December 2010, is being funded by the Korean ICT Trust Fund at the World Bank. Updates on this project will be posted periodically on the World Bank's ICT and Education blog, EduTech.

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