Tag Archives: yoza

Book: Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches

Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative ApproachesAt the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, a short book Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches was released.

The book critically reviews existing and new ideas, perspectives and frameworks on education through relevant analyses and case studies. It explores the full array of social benefits of different programmes and interventions and related evidence of return on investment. The authors believe the real value-add of the publication is on conceptualizing and describing innovative, plausible, scalable, compelling and high-impact solutions that will improve access to education, strengthen educational quality, improve workers’ skills and increase equity – across income level, gender and other demographic subgroups.

A challenge posed in the book is: how do we create alternative pathways to learning for school dropouts to give them an additional chance at learning or a career? It was an honour to be asked to contribute a description of Yoza Cellphone Stories as an example of such an alternative pathway.

Launch of phase 2 of bookly

booklyToday is the launch of phase two of bookly, a mobile/browser-based reading and writing platform in South Africa. In 2013 bookly won the Best Start-up award at the annual FutureBook Innovation Awards in London. It is great to see a South African initiative using the technology that is in the hands of our youth to improve literacy. This was the aim of Yoza Cellphone Stories, an initiative that I founded and run.

I received this from NATIVE VML, the company behind bookly:

I wanted to drop you a  line to tell you about bookly – both a reading and writing platform, with the goal of improving literacy in South Africa.

bookly was launched in May last year as an e-reader app on Mxit. We’ve had over 700 000 unique visitors, viewing more than 13 million pages. We added more than 450 books onto our platform and our users have added more than 250 000 books to their bookshelves! By partnering with local publishers,  bookly has also been instrumental in promoting South African authors. Thousands of reads have been achieved for the likes of Modjaji Books, Black Letter Media, Random House, MissWrite and Wordsmack and that’s just the beginning.

To get more people to read, we need more content that is relevant and personal to the kids. To get more content, we need South African to write their own stories.

This is where phase 2 of bookly comes in.

For phase 2 of bookly we are expanding into a writing platform. We have also created www.bookly.co.za, a mobile site which allows anyone to write a bookly.  A bookly  is a short piece of fiction that can be anything from poetry to a short story that is designed for mobile so the objective is to keep it concise but entertaining and provocative. A bookly can be written using anything from a feature phone up to a desktop PC. We will also be launching The bookly Award to encourage  kids to write on the platform. On top of that, we are working with writing workshops such as Sa-Yes, MissWrite, and Access to spread the word about bookly. For more info, please check out the attached documents.

More information about bookly and how to access it can be found in the press release, e.g. bookly can be found in the following ways:

Fiona Snyckers is mentioned in the press release as an author who publishes on bookly — she authored three of the best titles on Yoza in the Sisterz series.

I’m not exactly clear on their business model, but do know that they are not expecting to make millions out of bookly. Rather it is a vehicle for publishers and authors to create interest in their work, grow their brands and gauge interest in new works. With mobile, it is possible to get instant feedback from your readers. I learned this from comments received on Yoza stories. Further, bookly isa  vehicle for supporting literacy development and growing the author base in our country.

I wish bookly and NATIVE VML all the best. As Head of Mobile at Pearson I will be watching its progress with interest.

Yoza Cellphone Stories wins NetExplo Award

Yoza Cellphone Stories won a Netexplo Award in Paris. More information about the award and the presentation I gave is on the Yoza Project site.

Steve Vosloo receiving the NetExplo Award for Yoza Cellphone Stories
Me receiving the NetExplo Award for Yoza Cellphone Stories

The future of education in Africa is mobile (BBC article, UK version)

The article I wrote for the BBC Future site (24 August 2012) is not available to users in the UK, so here it is below …

The future of education in Africa is mobile

Mobile phone


Over the coming months, A Matter of Life and Tech will feature a range of voices from people building Africa’s tech future. This week, United Nation’s mobile learning specialist Steve Vosloo argues phones could be the future of education on the continent.

Education systems are under stress.

It is a problem felt in many parts of the world, but in Africa, the strain is even more acute.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 10m children drop out of primary school every year. Even those fortunate enough to complete primary school often leave with literacy and numeracy skills far below expected levels.

In addition, there is a major shortage of trained and motivated teachers. It is estimated that to ensure that every child has access to quality education by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit 350,000 new teachers every year. It seems increasingly unlikely that this will happen.

Throw in one of the highest concentrations of illiterate adults in the world, and you begin to understand the scale of the problem.

In the last decade many African countries have, against these significant odds, made solid progress in improving their education levels. However, the challenges are often too large. The “usual” tried and tested methods of delivering education are not enough.

Yet there is a potential solution.

While education struggles to cope, mobile communication has grown exponentially. Africa is today the fastest growing and second largest mobile phone market in the world. While in some countries – including Botswana, Gabon and Namibia – there are more mobile subscriptions than inhabitants, Africa still has the lowest mobile penetration of any market. There is plenty more growth to come. Over 620 million mobile subscriptions mean that for the first time in the history of the continent, its people are connected.

These connections offer an opportunity for education. Already, we are starting to see the beginnings of change. An increasing number of initiatives – some large-scale, some small – are using mobile technologies to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services. Mobiles are streamlining education administration and improving communication between schools, teachers and parents. The list goes on. Mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing education approaches, is supporting and extending education in ways not possible before.

Numbers game

For millions of Africans, much of their daily reading and writing happens on mobile phones in the form of SMS and instant message (IM) chats. Mobiles are also increasingly being used to access long-form reading material – not only 160 character text bites. For example, projects such as Yoza Cellphone Stories, which offers downloads of stories and novels, has shown impressive uptake amongst young African readers who enjoy mobile novels or ‘m-novels’.  On Yoza, users not only read stories but comment and vote on them. In its first 18 months, Yoza had 470,000 complete reads of its stories and poems, as well as 47,000 user comments.

Since 2010, the non-profit organization Worldreader has provided school children in a number of developing countries with access to digital books through donated Kindle e-readers. Recently, it has begun to publish the books via a mobile phone-based e-reader. The Worldreader app and its library of stories is already on 3.9 million handsets, with active readers in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana, to name a few.

In many countries, mobiles are the only channel for effectively distributing reading material, given the high cost of books and their distribution, especially to rural areas. Reading on a mobile device is different to reading in print. Mobile devices offer interactivity, the ability for readers to comment on content, the ability to connect with other readers and to publicly ask questions and receive support. Mobile devices can be used to deliver appropriate and personalized content, in ways that print books cannot. Of course, print books have their strengths – such as not having batteries that need to be recharged. A complementary approach that draws on the strengths of each – print and mobile books – is ideal.

Social networking sites, accessed primarily or only via mobile devices by most Africans, are also on the rise and offer another opportunity. Already they are being used by teachers and learners to share resources and provide support in open discussions. For communities that are geographically dispersed and cannot afford to meet in person, the support from such virtual communities is invaluable.

MXit is Africa’s largest homegrown mobile social network. With over 50 million users, the South Africa-founded service not only allows its mostly young users to stay in touch by text chatting, it also facilitates live tutoring on maths homework.  Dr Maths on MXit has helped 30,000 school-aged children work through maths problems by connecting them with maths tutors for live chat sessions. The service is effective for two reasons: it is cheap – the actual service is free but users pay a minimal data charge to their mobile providers – and it operates in the evenings, when learners need help with homework. For many children in South Africa, this is the most qualified tutor that they will have access to.

Of course, it is not possible to have a one size fits all approach. The mobile landscape in Africa is spread unevenly across 56 countries: in some places there is good infrastructure and access to mobile data, in others access is spotty and limited to basic services. To make a real impact mobile learning initiatives must – and do in Africa – cater to the full range of technology contexts. An example is Nokia Life, an information service with over 70 million subscribers in India, China, Indonesia and Nigeria. Popular information channels in Nigeria deliver preparation tips for middle and high school exams, health education aimed at families and English language learning. The service uses SMS, meaning it does not need mobile data coverage that is not as widely implemented in many places.

But it is not just about the services. If mobile learning is to have a real impact, we need to also rethink what we mean by education, schooling and what skills it delivers.

Recently, a United Nations task team led by UNESCO produced a think piece on education and skills beyond 2015. The piece predicts there will be a shift away from teaching in a classroom-centred paradigm of education to an increased focus on learning, which happens informally throughout the day. A core feature of mobiles is that they support ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Because they are personal and always at hand, they are perfectly suited to support informal and contextual learning.

The report also predicts that there will be an increased blurring of the boundaries between learning, working and living. Mobiles already support skills development in a range of fields including agriculture and healthcare, and provide paying job opportunities for mobile-based ‘microwork’.

In addition to education basics such as literacy and numeracy, the reports says, there will be a need for digital and information literacy, as well as critical thinking and online communication skills. With the guidance of teachers, mobiles provide a medium for developing these skills for millions of Africans who go online ‘mobile first’ or even ‘mobile-only’.

On a continent where education change – what should be taught, how it should be delivered and assessed, and where learning happens – is inevitable, and mobiles are more affordably and effectively networking people to each other and information than ever before, the combined promise is bigger than the sum of the parts. Mobile learning is here to stay and will only influence and enable learning more and more.

Do you agree with Steve? If you would like to comment on this article or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Steve Vosloo is a mobile learning specialist with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. He founded the Yoza Cellphone Stories project in 2009. Read his blog or follow him on Twitter at @stevevosloo.

Picture used under creative commons from mLearning Africa.

On mobiles for teacher development and edutainment: Interview by Russell Southwood of Balancing Act Africa

Below is an interview by Russell Southwood of Balancing Act Africa on mobile learning in Africa. The interview has two parts: the first video is about how mobile learning can tackle the global teacher shortage and the impact of mobile learning on the education system.

 
The second part is about the power of interactive and “edutaining” content via mobile devices, for example through the Yoza Cellphone Stories project.

 
[I had  a cold so please excuse any nasal sounds!]

2010: A year in review

This is my “brag pack” for 2010. Read the one for 2009.

What I did
As fellow for 21st century learning at the Shuttleworth Foundation I spent the year focusing on my m4Lit, or mobiles for literacy, project. It was launched in 2009 as a pilot initiative to explore whether teens in South Africa will read stories on their mobile phones. It turns out that they will, and based on the success of the pilot phase, I was given another Fellowship year.

Phase 2 of the project essentially involved i) offering more content (which our readers had asked for), ii) improving the user experience, iii) growing the user base, and iv) working towards sustainability.

The Praekelt Foundation was brought in to redevelop the content management system. The new system publishes to a mobisite, www.yoza.mobi, as well as onto MXit (before these were two separate systems), with additional features for interactivity such as easy commenting, voting and reviewing. I called the new offering Yoza Cellphone Stories, and assembled a freelance team to help me run it: top South African authors, an editor, graphic designer, moderators, and social media mavens.

Yoza was launched in August with fourteen stories. Today there are twenty-one stories — in English, Afrikaans and isiXhoza — and growing. Publication of new stories happens on the first of every month, with writing competitions happening all the time.

What worked
1. Publishing a broader range of content, such as soccer (Streetskillz), chick-lit (Sisterz) and teen issues (Confessions), in addition to the Kontax teen adventure series, was very well received. We also published five Shakespeare plays that are being studied by South African learners.

From 2009, our m-novels have collectively been read more than 60,000 times, our readers have posted more than 40,000 comments and submitted more than 10,000 competition entries!

Feedback from our readers is mostly positive: it is clear that we are educating as well as entertaining our readers.

“I must say: the story line it self is gripping, for somereasen everytime i read the kontax stories am kept at the erge of my sit. They are always grattifiying and i can hardly wait for another1. Thank you to the contax team cause for the 1st time in years i am reading again and i lov reading now, and am a guy so you i just dont lyk readin. So thank u again guyz you da best,” by Mphuthumi Busakwe, commenting on Kontax 5: The Sext Files.

“Gr8 story guyz.. I can’t wait 4 th nxt one 2 b published. I’m totally addicted! Love th fact tht Jayden nd Latoya r bck 2gethr. P.s Please give us more than one chapter a day,” by Ms. Makes, commenting on Sisterz 2: Hidden Danger.

“2 all soccer lovers,esp players,here r technical tips,grab them. Gud luck 2d team!” by Assah, commenting on Streetskillz 2: Silver’s Treasure.

It is also clear that there is an implicit conversation happening between the story — and sometimes the Yoza brand — and the readers. We create interesting and deliberately provocative scenarios in the stories to elicit reader opinion, and they usually respond in full force. An example is the comments on this Sisterz chapter (first read the WHAT DO YOU THINK comment prompt on that page).

2. The new interface is more user-friendly and easier to maintain. The actual CMS will be open-sourced.

3. Being on MXit in Kenya has given the project a greater profile.

4. Our stories have also been published on Young Africa Live on the Vodafone Live portal, as well as on MYMsta.mobi, loveLife’s mobile social network. Two high school teachers in the Western Cape have been in contact to say that they are using Yoza in the English classroom.

5. The READ Educational Trust runs an annual Readathon competition, and for the first time teens could enter the writing competition on Yoza via their mobile phones. We also ran writing competitions in conjunction with the Sunday Times and The Sowetan newspapers.

6. We have an open call for writers to contribute stories to Yoza. So far three have been published by authors from Lapa Publishers.

Stockholm Challenge7. The m4Lit project received an Honourable Mention in the Stockholm Challenge award, and has received much media coverage, both locally and internationally, including from School Library Journal, Global Post, City Press, Argus, EP Herald, The Times, M&G Online, Rapport, West Cape News, ITWeb, Soulbeat, Drum Beat, Mashable, Puku, Idasa, GSMA Development Fund, Educational Technology Debate, 5fm, YFM, East Coast Radio and the Voice of the Cape.

Bottom line: Throughout the year I have said, and still say, that the cellphone is a powerful learning and communication tool. Instead of viewing it as a distraction and a hindrance to education, I believe it should be viewed as an essential part of the solution. It is the e-reader of Africa, a device onto which we can quickly and easily publish content to a wide audience, as well as through which young people are given a voice. The high-levels of engagement on Yoza has shown that participatory culture is alive and well in Africa, although here it is via MXit comments and not Youtube videos.

What still needs work
1) Yoza is not producing enough content to feed the mobile monster. Our readers want more and they want it now. They don’t like waiting for the first of the next month to get their next story fix.

2) There is a novelty factor to m-novels. The Yoza stories have not had as many reads and competition entries as the first Kontax stories. Although more comments are made on Yoza stories than before. This novelty-factor has forced us to continually try to improve the user experience and offer targeted content.

3) Sustainability is still not resolved. At this stage, m4Lit has not secured any revenue other than the Shuttleworth Foundation funding, although a number of positive conversations are currently underway for sponsorship.

Future plans
A clear business opportunity has emerged. Our readers are crying out for content about issues, e.g. teen pregnancy or how to handle money. Below is a word cloud of what our readers told us they want to read about. As you can see, it covers the full range of “issues”.

Non-profit organisations, governments and corporates want to communicate their messages to young people, e.g. healthy sexual behaviour or financial literacy. Yoza is the bridge between these groups.

We now have a platform to run Yoza, a team that can offer full-service mobile content campaigns, and a MXit footprint in South Africa and Kenya, with plans to grow into other countries. We are well-placed to transition from Yoza the “cellphone stories library” to Yoza the “mobile social marketing service”. A major milestone is to secure a big first sponsor.

We want young people across Africa to use their phones for reading, writing and learning – and believe that this can ultimately be a positive influence on their lives. In short: more content, more users, more participation, and greater impact.

Living out loud
As Fellows we are required to “live out loud”. On the topic of mlearning, I am a regular event speaker and panelist. I have presented on m4Lit at TEDx Soweto (watch video) and Tech4Africa, eLearning Africa in Zambia, and twice at the World Bank in Washington. I recently gave a thematic keynote at the Open Innovation Africa Summit in Kenya, and at the International Seminar on Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development in Barcelona.

I have been Interviewed by BBC’s Digital Planet as well as PRI’s The World, which is broadcast on National Public Radio in the USA. I regularly write for the M&G’s The Teacher. I am an advisor to the Department of Basic Education on its Guidelines on e-Safety in Schools.

Overall it has been an exciting year and I feel that the project has made a significant contribution to mlearning in Africa. I would like to thank the Shuttleworth Foundation. My three-year fellowship provided a wonderful opportunity to develop innovative projects and live out loud in the mlearning space. I look forward to seeing the work that was begun during my fellowship continue to grow.

Education for All in Africa

On Monday I gave a keynote presentation at the Nokia Open Innovation Africa Summit in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya. The presentation looks at the Education for All goals and how mobile phones can support their achievement. Questions were asked in order to get the delegates into problem solving mode!