Mobile phones have a deep penetration in Africa, and the upcoming availability of cheap tablets is predicted to have high adoption as well. Undoubtedly, all sections of society are keenly interested in this development, especially advocates of mobile learning. They perceive it as an opportunity to spread education to children in marginalised communities that have been neglected by the formal educational system. A recent article by Niall Winters from the London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education challenges this notion and brings up some very valid issues.
Why Mobile Learning?
Worldwide, 69 million children do not attend school today. These children are neglected by weak formal education systems with poor access and teaching. In such a scenario, mobile learning is seen as a viable option as it can bypass the entire system and deliver high-quality education directly to the learner, as it were.
Is Mobile Learning the Panacea?
- Niall Winters argues that “access is about much more than the provision of content. Access is about long-term and regular educational opportunities, the right to a basic education that is equitable for everyone. Achieving this means engaging with – not standing apart from – formal education opportunities. Those with an interest in mobile learning should not underestimate the depth of this challenge. As a recent UNESCO review pointed out, there is little evidence to support the proposition that mobile phones increase access to formal primary schooling.”
- The notion that access to learning can be addressed through content delivery alone is simplistic, according to Winters. It does not take into account the complexities of everday lives of the learners. “This is particular true for girls. Recent work at the Institute of Education by Jenny Parkes and Jo Heslop for Action Aid has evidenced how “[p]overty intersects with gendered inequalities in creating barriers to schooling for girls, with girls missing out on schooling because of household chores and childcare, farm work, inability to pay school fees, early pregnancy and marriage,” Winters argues.
- Niall uses the ‘Hole in the Wall’ kiosk project, which aims at spreading computer literacy in rural India, to illustrate his point that though successful, it created marginalisation within the marginalised group, when a few boys dominated the kiosks and the benefits failed to trickle down to all. I feel this argument is weakened by the fact that mobile learning assumes access to a one-to-one learning device as opposed to a shared kiosk.
Mobile learning can benefit all, according to Winters, only if we integrate it with the existing formal educational system and suitably train educators to design and develop mobile learning interventions keeping in context the social complexities and issues.