Social innovation: Have You Heard of mLearning?
A report true to real social innovation, published by the GSMA, a mobile industry body, called “Shaping the future – realising the potential of informal learning through mobile,” explores mobile technology's potential to improve access to education for young people in developing countries. The study specifically looks at four countries—Ghana, Uganda, India and Morocco—identifying young people's aspirations and priorities, exploring the education and employment challenges they face, and scrutinising their mobile phone use. The research concludes that the mobile industry and international development community should work together to create m-learning services that improve teaching and learning, which ultimately promotes long-term development. The GSMA spans more than 220 countries, uniting nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators.
Mobile phones are very popular in poor countries, which now account for four in every five connections globally. Elsie Kanza, of the World Economic Forum, says, “Regardless of social class, almost everyone in Africa has a mobile phone, or two or three. Even in remote villages, mobile phones have replaced the bicycle or radio as prized assets." India’s recent national census showed that more people had mobiles than access to sanitation. However, while mobiles are on the up, a quarter of the young people surveyed – and almost half of those from Ghana – said a shortage of money was the biggest obstacle to accessing educational resources. Yet, in spite of this, mobile technology offers clear social innovation possibilities for learning; of the young people participating in the study who had accessed the internet, half had done so on a mobile device.
Enthusiasm for learning was a common thread in the feedback. Only family and health were felt to be of greater importance by the study's participants, 30 percent of whom said having a good career ranked higher among their priorities than marriage or home ownership. Only a quarter said the classroom was their principal source of information and education while 43% gleaned most of their knowledge from TV programmes.
The report says by using its findings to tap into common interests among young mobile users, the reach and impact of educational material can be increased. Many of those surveyed used their devices to access music and sports content (49% and 24% respectively across the four areas studied); so it seems social innovation and technology can make a real difference. However, some critics believe it threatens to undermine traditional teaching methods, plus, it could well leave those without access to devices at a disadvantage, reinforcing inequality.
At the end of the day, this is a small sample piece of research, and is indicative rather than representative. Yet, if the networks get the message, it's a valuable piece of work and may be just enough to encourage them to get out there and do something. The GSMA has the scope to help tackle illiteracy in the developing world through social innovation and m-learning; probably may be even over taking e-learning.
Photo Credit: GSMA mLearning