Tag Archives: UNESCO

Across Africa the Feature Phone is Not Dead – Your Weekend Long Reads

Quartz Africa reports that last year feature phones took back market share from smartphones in Africa. The market share of smartphones fell to 39% in 2017 (from 45%), while feature phones rose to 61% (from 55%).

Quartz Africa sees the reasons as likely to be twofold: first, the growth of big markets, like Ethiopia and DR Congo, which until recently have had relatively low penetration. Second, low price.

Transsion, a little-known Chinese handset manufacturer, now sells more phones than any other company in Africa. It’s three big brands outnumber Samsung’s market share there. The devices are cheap and appealing for new users.

The FT reports that Transsion’s phones are specifically designed for the African market: they have multiple sim-card slots, camera software adapted to better snap darker skin tones, and speakers with enhanced bass (seriously). Many of the feature phone models have messaging apps. The batteries remain on standby for up to 13 days!

What does this mean? That you should freeze your flashy new app project? No! There’s no need to stop planning and developing for a smartphone-enabled Africa. The trend is clear: smartphones become cheaper over time and their uptake increases.

But we know that in Africa, especially, mobile usage is unevenly distributed and these stats are a good reminder that the non-smartphone user base is still huge. Many of us need to remain true to that reality if we want our ICT to be 4D.

The age old question – which mobile channel should we focus on? – has not gone away. And the answer still remains the same: it depends. What is your service? What devices do your users have? What are their usage preferences? Do they have data coverage and, if yes, can they afford data?

Low tech, like IVR and radio, can be beautiful and extremely effective. In a meta-study of education initiatives in Africa, the Brookings Institute found that most technology-based innovations utilize existing tools in new ways. They give Eneza Education as an example, which built its service on SMS (even though there is now an Android app available).

At the same time, apps are certainly rising in the development sector. While not in Africa, the Inventory of Digital Technologies for Resilience in Asia-Pacific found apps to be the dominant channel. From my own experience I’m seeing more apps, often as one part of a mix of delivery channels.

A forthcoming case study in the UNESCO-Pearson initiative is MOPA, a platform for participatory monitoring of waste management services in Maputo, Mozambique. Citizens report issues via USSD, website and, most recently, via Android app.

Usage patterns show that 96% of reports are still sent through USSD, 3% via mobile app, and only 1% through the website. Given that specific user base, and the quick-and-dirty nature of the transaction, it’s not surprising that USSD is a clear winner.

Another example of a channel mix is Fundza, the South African mobile novel library. It started life as a mobisite and now also has an app, which largely provides a window into the same content just in a nice Android skin.

The app is used by less than 1% of users, with the mobisite taking the lion’s share of traffic (via feature phone and smartphone). Fundza is also on Free Basics, where the breakdown is quite different: 65% mobisite, 45% app (perhaps pointing to the benefits of being bundled into someone else’s very well-marketed app).

There are many reasons why individual apps may or may not succeed, and these examples are not meant to downplay their utility. Overall, the world is going to smartphones.

However, the bottom line is that you should not write off the humble feature phone in Africa just yet. It does old tech very well, internet messaging and the mobile web, which for many ICT4D projects is still their bread and butter access channel.


UNESCO report on mobiles for teacher support

unesco_supporting_teachers_cover_smallOn World Teachers’ Day (5 October) we celebrate the wonderful people all over the planet who have dedicated their lives to the education of others. Without the commitment and patience of teachers, none of us, the educated, would be where we are today.

However, on this day we also know there are not enough teachers in the world. In fact, to meet the first target of Sustainable Development Goal 4 — ensure that by 2030 all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education — is it estimated that 69 million new teachers will need to be recruited. Furthermore, pre-service and in-service teachers need to be trained and supported throughout their careers. All viable options, including digital technologies, need to be leveraged to achieve this goal.

In the spirit of solving the twin challenges of teacher supply and teacher quality, UNESCO recently released the report Supporting teachers with mobile technology, which draws lessons from UNESCO projects implemented in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal between 2012 and 2014. I managed the project in Nigeria along with Mark West, the report’s co-author. The projects, implemented through a partnership between UNESCO and Nokia (now part of Microsoft), aimed to explore how mobile learning technologies can support teacher development.

The report offers rich descriptions of the four different project contexts, approaches and evaluations, and is well worth reading. Below is a selection of key points from the conclusion, some well known in mobile learning, others new. Hopefully they inspire the edtech community to keep working to support teachers.

Findings about the perceived impact of the projects

  • Contrary to the notion that educators are tech-phobic and resistant to change, in all four projects the participating teachers were enthusiastic to experiment with ‘outside the box’ approaches to teacher professional development.
  • Teachers wanted more training. Even though there were significant efforts to provide initial and ongoing support, more can only help. The range of tech troubles also cannot be underestimated, which require on-site and virtual support.
  • Unsurprisingly, teacher use of ICT increased substantially as a result of the intervention, which led to them reporting dramatically improved ICT skills. This, in itself, is noteworthy (as reported in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018), as teacher digital literacy is crucial for mobile learning.
  • While teacher pedagogy was not formally measured by the project evaluations, in all countries teachers reported increased learner participation in the classroom, especially in Pakistan and Nigeria.
  • No clear increase in communication between teachers was found. This result is somewhat disappointing as mobiles have been shown to enable peer-to-peer learning amongst teachers. The report notes that more attention could have been paid to encouraging this type of communication.

Lessons learned


Teacher training in Nigeria

  • Mobile phones appear to provide a viable means to expand access to professional development opportunities. As the report notes, this is exciting because it means that an increasingly widespread technology offers a vehicle to support teachers living in areas where traditional capacity building opportunities are scarce.
  • Access to mobile phones should not be conflated with a mobile learning solution. An ecosystem approach is needed, including compelling content, institutional partners, extensive teacher training, ongoing project support, communication campaigns and buy-in from education leaders.
  • Consistent and well-curated educational resources appear to be hallmarks of effective mobile learning content. The report describes how the UNESCO projects seemed to work best when they provided teachers with discrete, well-organized and sequenced packages of learning resources that established clear learning pathways. Highly interactive content is not always needed or appropriate.
  • Mobile learning solutions carry significant costs. Digital is not always cheaper, not only regarding the tech itself, but the complementary activities. For example, the teacher training workshops proved to be the most expensive and logistically complex aspects of the four country projects.
  • Mobile learning solutions for teachers have numerous limitations and are not yet substitutes for traditional and evidence-based teacher training and development. While mobile phones offer much potential for professional teacher development and support, they also come with limitations such as small screen sizes that limit interaction possibilities. Tablets and laptops overcome some of the barriers but, even for them, mobile learning solutions should supplement rigorous teacher training programmes, not replace them.

The report offers a few recommendations for the continued efforts to support teacher professional development using mobile technologies.

5 Take-aways from the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week Webinar

The 2016 UNESCO Mobile Learning Week kicked off on Monday with a webinar entitled Innovation and quality: Two sides of the same coin? The virtual event, held in partnership with Education Fast Forward, debated the extent to which mobile technology can strengthen the quality of education and facilitate learning.

I blogged about the five key take-aways on ICTWorks – you can read the post there.

(Image: @AndrewGraley)



Literacy, gender and mobiles

At the 2015 UNESCO Mobile Learning Week, I sat on a panel about literacy. Below are my speaking notes. Thank you to Ms Saniye Gülser Corat, Director for Gender Equality at UNESCO, for moderating the panel.


Brief for the panel:

Due to a history of educational inequity, many more women than men are illiterate: globally, 64 per cent of illiterate people are women. Limited access to physical books and other learning materials disproportionately affects women, particularly in developing countries. Cultural norms can make it difficult for girls to leave home in order to attend literacy trainings or participate in outreach activities. Motherhood and assumed family obligations can further prevent women from building literacy skills in formal education settings.

How can mobile learning interventions break through barriers and promote literacy for women and girls in ways that are sustainable and scalable? How can mobile technology help develop essential literacies beyond reading and writing, such as media and technology literacy?

Three basic points I want to make

Much has already been achieved by mobiles for literacy.
The Goethe Institute of Johannesburg last month hosted an mLiteracy Networking Meeting to examine the opportunities and challenges for mobiles to increase literacy development, especially in Africa (see my speaking notes from the meeting).

It was an incredibly valuable, interesting and much-needed gathering by some of the old and new players in this space. The good news is seeing how far mobiles for literacy has come, how it has grown, how many young and old people it is reaching and engaging. How the mobiles for literacy field has not only provided another much needed medium to access reading material, but also allowed readers to comment and write their own pieces. It has given readers a voice, something not possible at such scale or immediacy in the print medium.

Gender sensitive does not equal gender specific.
In many cases we do not need initiatives focused only on women and girls, but rather on women and girls, men and boys. In other words, a holistic approach that is gender sensitive. Of course there is spill-over when particular genders are targeted – as with the example of Business Women, a mobile service for women entrepreneurs in Nigeria that has reached 100,000 women AND to which 20,00 men have also subscribed.

The need for specificity.
We know that local context is a key differentiator. There are different gender-related opportunities and barriers across and within countries, cities and communities. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and so when answering questions about improving literacy for women and girls, we need to provide broad enough responses that can be adapted and applied appropriately to specific audiences.

Pearson is playing a key role in improving literacy.
Last year Pearson launched Project Literacy, a five-year campaign to help ensure that by 2030, every child around the world has the support they need to become a literate adult. On the Project Literacy site, almost 200 organisations and people working in literacy have posted their challenges and inspirations.

Three suggestions for how to answer the questions

Take an ecosystem view.
For an initiative to be successful and scalable, it is essential to understand the full range of stakeholders, enablers and constraints in the mliteracy ecosystem. This view is recommended by the UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning.

For your initiative, who can increase visibility, lower costs, benefit from your content? Which policies support your work, or hinder it? Who provides the devices that the women and girls use, who supplies the network infrastructure? Which stakeholders have been the hardest to engage with? Interrogating the ecosystem was a key theme of the Goethe Institute mLiteracy Networking Meeting – a sign, I think, of how the mliteracy space has matured.

Target content and programmes.
From Yoza Cellphone Stories, and also other mliteracy projects, we know that the romance genre is very popular. Equally are stories that talk to the social issues of the audience: pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, drugs, mothering, job-seeking, education, etc. Content must be targeted to the communities who we want to consume and engage with it. This does not re-enforce gender stereotypes but rather recognises the different life experiences of women and girls, men and boys, and so normalises and mainstreams differences across these groups.

Content that develops the skills of readers supports the recommendation from the UNESCO Mobile Phone Literacy – Empowering Women and Girls project: “The particular needs of the targeted women and girls must be addressed and life-skills and empowerment opportunities offered.”

Questions for reflection: Give an example of how you have targeted specifically women/men, or girls/boys? And did doing so alienate the other group?

Increase visibility.
Visibility of resources and opportunities via mobiles remains a challenge – obscurity is the biggest threat to the many excellent initiatives. Visibility includes a number of aspects:

  • Marketing: It is essential that women and girls know about the opportunities.
  • The need for programmes – offline – that encourage reading, literacy, promote its benefits. Mobile is not a panacea and cannot operate while other barriers – cultural, economic, etc. – are not holistically addressed. Example: The Mobile-Based Post Literacy project by UNESCO in Pakistan first spent a long time engaging the village elders to ensure that they understood and ultimately supported the programme to improve the literacy of adolescent girls via mobile phones. This supports the recommendation from the reports of the UNESCO Mobile Phone Literacy – Empowering Women and Girls project: “Community sensitization and mobilization as well as political support are key ingredients for success.”
  • Recognition of mobile as a valid channel for supporting literacy. There are perceptions around the use of mobiles as distracting and undermining education. Research and case studies can change this – in fact this perception is already changing.

Questions for reflection: How have you increased visibility for your project? How have you engaged communities / gatekeepers to sensitize them and seek political support?

Closing words

A wonderful piece by Anathi Nyadu, a FundZa writer and attendee of the Goethe meeting, describes how he used to have to scrounge newspapers from the bin and steal books to satisfy his love of reading. But he believes his niece will never have to do either, thanks to mobile literacy.

1:1 Educational Computing Initiatives — Lessons learned and confirmed at the Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014

Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014I recently had the privilege of attending the 8th Global Symposium on ICT in Education 2014, themed Transforming Education with 1:1 Computing (3-5 November, 2014, Gyeongju, Republic of Korea). All presentations are here.

I presented on 2 Case Studies at National Level: 1:1 Educational Computing Initiatives in South Africa – namely the large-scale tablet implementation at CTI and MGI higher education institutions, and the ICT4RED school tablet rollout in the rural Eastern Cape district of Cofimvaba.

28 countries were represented, sharing their experiences of planning and implementing 1:1 computing initiatives. The event was hosted by the Korean Ministry of Education and the World Bank, along with KERIS, UNESCO Bangkok and Intel. South Korea is one of the leaders in digital learning, so it was a fitting context for the conference.

A number of lessons were learned and known ones confirmed, shared below (download here).

Mobile developments w/c 26 May 2014

The prospects for mobile learning
(Introductory chapter of Prospects journal issue on mobile learning)
By Professor John Traxler and myself

Mobile Report April 2014
by @Native

Innovations out of Africa: The emergence, challenges and potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem
report by Julia manske published by the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications

Pearson’s Learning Curve 2014 report makes a few references to mobile, in particular:

  • Mobile technology can help overcome some obstacles to adult learning in the developing world, e.g. especially surrounding limited access to educational materials. But mobile is no panacea.
  • In its working paper series on mobile learning, UNESCO makes clear that the full potential of using mobile technologies in education is yet to be realised.

UNESCO report: A mobile reading revolution

Mobile phones offer a new channel to literature and an opportunity to improve literacy that is revolutionary. Such is the conclusion of the recently released report by UNESCO titled Reading in the Mobile Era (infographic).

Millions of people do not read for one reason: they do not have access to text. But today mobile phones and cellular networks are transforming a scarce resource into an abundant one.

Drawing on the analysis of over 4,000 surveys collected in seven developing countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe) and corresponding qualitative interviews, this report paints the most detailed picture to date of who reads books and stories on mobile devices and why.

I led the Mobiles for Reading project while at UNESCO, in partnership with Nokia and Worldreader, and am proud and inspired by what the report has uncovered, namely:

  • Large numbers of people in developing countries read books and stories on inexpensive mobile phones.
  • Mobile phones—even those with small, monochrome screens—provide a valid and widely used portal to text, opening up new pathways to literacy in communities where physical text is scarce.
  • While most mobile readers are male, female mobile readers tend to read far more than males. On average, women read for slightly over 200 minutes per month on a mobile device, six times as long as the average time for men. Given that 64% of illiterate people worldwide are female, interventions to facilitate mobile reading among women could help alleviate the global literacy crisis.
  • Both men and women read more—in absolute terms—when they start reading on a mobile device. Because increased reading carries numerous educational and social benefits, governments and other institutions can take steps to promote mobile reading, especially in areas where illiteracy is widespread, but mobile phones are common.
  • Nearly one third of study participants read stories to children from mobile phones. 34% of respondents who do not read to children said that they would if they had more books and stories for children on their mobiles. This highlights an opportunity to build and strengthen children’s literacy with technology that is increasingly ubiquitous in even the poorest communities. More digital content appropriate for young people should be made available on mobile devices as should portals that easily allow parents, teachers and caregivers to find books targeted to children.
  • Many neo- and semi-literate readers use mobile phones to search for and access text that is appropriate to their reading level. More can be done to ensure that beginning readers have access to content that corresponds to their reading ability, allowing them opportunities to improve their literacy skills.

When asked why respondents read on their mobile phones, convenience was the clear winner:


The report has received excellent coverage, including from The GuardianTime MagazineForbes and the Wall Street Journal. The accompanying presentation provides a succinct summary of the findings and recommendations.

Mobiles for reading is a passion of mine. In 2009 I founded Yoza Cellphone Stories (project info here). The report confirms my earlier beliefs that the mobile phone is — and will be for the foreseeable future — the “Kindle of Africa” simply because it is already in the hands of millions of people. While mobiles offer an unprecedented opportunity for increasing access to text, a key challenge remains around sustainability. So far there is no clear example (Yoza included) of mobiles for reading initiatives that are profitable. Indeed, many are funded by governments, foundations or CSI budgets (and the report’s recommendations talk to these stakeholders).

I believe that the answer to sustainability exists, it just hasn’t been worked out yet.

Clearly there is an unprecedented opportunity here to change the game for reading, including for children, women and girls, and semi-literate adults. All stakeholders need to engage with this opportunity to work through the challenges.

I would like to thank and congratulate the excellent M4R team, including (from left) Periša Ražnatovi (Worldreader), Rebecca Kraut, Elizabeth Hensick Wood (Worldreader), Sanna Eskelinen (Nokia), Mark West (UNESCO), myself and Han Ei Chew (United Nations University).

M4R Team at MLW 2014_small