I was delighted to have been asked by UNESCO to write an overview of the evolution of mobile devices and their uses in learning (m-learning), focusing especially on the fifteen-year period of the first Millennium Development Goals, as a background paper for the 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, and it is great that this has now been published.
I thought it might be useful to summarise some of the key points here. The paper highlights eight emerging good practices, and six significant policy implications. The emerging good practices are:
- Focusing on learning outcomes not technology
- Involving teachers and users at all stages from design to implementation and review
- Involve participatory approaches in design so as to ensure that adoption of technology is user-centric
- Consider sustainability, maintenance and financing right at the beginning
- Think holistically and systemically
- Ensure that all relevant government departments are involved
- Ensure equality of access to all learners, especially those who are marginalised
- Appropriate and rigorous monitoring and evaluation must be in place
The policy implications identified are closely linked to these and can be summarised as:
- Joined up approaches across Governments
- Sharing of effective and rigorous monitoring and evaluation findings
- Ensuring affordability
- Providing connectivity
- Effective multi-stakeholder partnerships
- Development of relevant content
Four case studies drawn from different parts of the world and at different scales were used to illustrate the considerable success that can be achieved through m-learning. These were:
- BBC Janala in Bangladesh;
- Red UnX: a mobile learning community for entrepreneurship in Latin America;
- Learning on the Move in Singapore; and
- Worldreader: making books available to primary school children in low-income countries
However, the paper also illustrates clearly that unless very considerable efforts are made to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised people and communities have access to appropriate devices, connectivity and electricity, any increased attention on digital technologies is likely to increase inequalities rather than reduce them.
It concludes that to date, great strides have been made in using the very rapid expansion of mobile devices for the benefit of education, and for those companies involved in exploiting this. However, as a review of delivery on the past EFA goals and MDGs, it is apparent that much remains to be done in using such devices to help achieve universal primary education and gender equality in education. Looking to the future, as more and more people gain possession of, or access to, mobile devices, they will have the opportunity to use the Internet to access an ever more innovative array of learning tools and content. The challenge, particularly for governments, is how to pay for and use this potential to enable universal access, and thus equality of opportunity within the education sector. Given the central role of teachers and administrators within education, an important concluding recommendation is that much more attention should be paid to providing training, resources and support to them in the use of mobile devices. A well-equipped, knowledgeable and inspired cadre of teachers, capable of using mobile ‘phones effectively in their classes, is a crucial first-step towards delivering m-learning for all. Sadly, all too often, even in the richest countries of the world, children are told to switch off their mobile ‘phones before entering the classroom. M-learning has much potential, but we are still a long way from using it to benefit the world’s poorest and most marginalised.