MOUNTAIN LAKES, New Jersey — Education in Sub-Saharan Africa is a challenging situation. Less than half of all secondary school-aged adolescents are enrolled in secondary school. This number drops to less than one fifth in Angola, the Central African Republic and Niger. As a result, over one third of all adults in Sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate.
The good news, though, is that across seven Sub-Saharan African countries, a median of 83 percent of adults own a cellphone. Fifty eight percent of those that did not own a cellphone have access to one through friends or relatives.
The rapid expansion of cellphones as a primary form of communication in Africa holds great promise in providing access to education to the more than 21 million adolescents not enrolled in secondary school. Specifically, there is the revolutionary development of mobile learning, or mLearning, that can provide educational materials ranging from Shakespeare’s plays to calculators for the basic cellphones forming Africa’s communication structure.
In particular, the following three services are changing millions of lives in Sub-Saharan Africa through the empowerment brought by information.
Nigeria’s Gidimo can be used anywhere in Africa where a mobile signal is present on any mobile device, which is particularly important considering that simple cellphones with basic capabilities are most popular, due to affordability, among the majority of consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Gidimo is a comprehensive service which unites mLearning and social media through its variety of functions. It emphasizes education through services such as gidiPrep, which offers preparation for student exams along with job test prep and practice on professional certifications. The Brain Gym, meanwhile, allows Gidimo users to focus on keeping their minds sharp through fun yet educational games.
In addition, the gidiLife service offers users with information on everything from sports cars to exchange rates. Users can also connect with Facebook and take advantage of the fun, social, gidiChat.
Promoting literacy, Yoza Cellphone Stories is a part of the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Mobiles For Literacy, or m4lit, project. Describing itself as providing “hip, interactive, and free” cellphone stories, or m-novels, the youth targeted service contains everything from classic works by Shakespeare to more modern fare, such as S.A. Partridge’s teen drama, “It Can Happen to You.”
The service also offers itself as a platform for aspiring writers, allowing them to submit their work and have it featured if approved. This allows Yoza to promote both literacy and writing skills among young people with basic cellphone access.
Popular South African social media provider MXit launched its mLearning service, Dr. Math, in 2007. The service has since provided valuable math assistance and training to over 25,000 users.
With Dr. Math, it costs less than an SMS to receive live, on-demand tutoring from qualified teachers, lecturers and college students on math homework.
When tutors are not online, the service still provides valuable resources for students through a variety of services, ranging from definitions of math terms to a basic scientific calculator. There are also a variety of math-related games and competitions that encourage users to keep their minds and math skills sharp.
Though mLearning is no substitute for instruction in a classroom setting, these services and many others continue to change lives and empower millions in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is still progress to be made, but communication technology continues to be a valuable ally in humanity’s battle against global inequality.
– Andrew Michaels
Sources: Gidi Mobile, African Library Project, Pew Research Center, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, eLearning Africa, Times of Higher Education, Financial Times, mEducation Alliance,PC Mag, UNICEF
Photo: 21st Century Tech