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A 'mobile first' approach to educational technology

Michael Trucano's picture

 

mobiles moving about ... but to what end?
mobiles moving about ... but to what end?

'Mobile devices' are increasingly to be found in schools, and utilized for learning purposes, around the world. In most cases, related discussions taking place in ministries of education focus on the use of portable tablets and small laptops as complements to, and extenders of, existing approaches to the use of technology to help meet a whole host of education and learning objectives. At the same time, mobile devices of many other sorts -- most notably the mobile phone -- are proliferating at a much greater rate in larger society. Linkages between the devices being used outside of schools, and the technology to be found within schools, are often quite tenuous, where they exist at all.

Policies and plans related to the use of our current generation of electronic mobile devices are sometimes considered in ways distant or divorced from the way that the previous generation of 'mobile devices' were used in education: books, notebooks, pencils. At other times, they are considered in exactly the same way, as if the new opportunities and affordances appearing as a result of technological advances are best considered as mere adjuncts to, or continuations of, some of the approaches and practices which have marked and defined what has happened in schools over the past one hundred years or so.
 

Is there really anything different (potentially) going on now,
and if so, what might this be,
and why (and how) might we care about this difference)?

I just returned from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world's largest exhibition and conference for the mobile industry, in which over 75,000 people representing mobile phone network operators, device manufacturers, technology providers, vendors and content owners from across the world gather to do business, announce new products and services, and discuss What's Next. In addition to walking through the acres of exhibition space, attending briefing sessions and meetings on activities and developments all over the world, and listening to lots of well-rehearsed marketing messages, the specific reason for my attendance at this year's event was to make a speech at the MWC's official ministerial programme, an event for senior government officials featuring debates and knowledge sharing sessions on a variety of topics of related interest. In case it might be of any interest to a wider audience (the ministerial programme itself was a closed event, not open to the public), I present below my speech below. One of the animating impulses behind the EduTech blog is to try, in a decidedly small and modest way, to promote greater transparency and openness by sharing some of the conversations and themes and perspectives that are being discussed 'behind closed doors' in various places in a more public forum. With that in mind ...

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Paying teacher salaries with mobile phones

Michael Trucano's picture
no worries, everything here is orderly and under control, all money is being accounted for in a clear and timely manner
no worries, everything here is orderly and under control,
all money is being accounted for in a clear and timely manner

I often find that a sure way to generate rather heated discussions in many quarters is to bring up the topic of teacher salaries. They're too low! or: They're too high! They should be linked to [insert some sort of 'performance indicator']! or: Attempts to link them to [insert name of a performance indicator] are misguided (and perhaps even dangerous)!

I'll leave it to others more informed and expert than I am to weigh in on such (often quite contentious) debates. However one might approach such discussions, and whatever conclusions one might draw from them, there isn't a lot of debate about one issue related to teacher salaries that has been well documented, and widely (and rightly) deplored.

Many teachers around the world suffer as a result of poorly-functioning systems to pay the salaries [pdf] they are due [ppt]. This is especially problematic, and notable, given that teacher salaries have for many decades constituted huge percentages of the overall education budgets in many countries. As a World Bank publication from a few years ago (Teachers for Rural Schools : Experiences in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda) laments, "Teachers in remote schools are [compared with their colleagues in more urban areas] more likely to be the direct victims of administrative failures, which undermine teacher morale and damage the system. One frequently mentioned administrative failure is the delay in paying teachers’ salaries and allowances." An 'administrative failure' of this sort can have many causes. Even where sufficient budget exists to pay teachers, flawed teacher salary systems, poor internal controls, logistical challenges related to transport, and corruption can conspire to ensure that in many places, especially in rural areas in poor countries, teacher salaries are sometimes paid only infrequently, often with great delay. The results of this can be devastating for education systems -- to say nothing of the impact on individual teachers, schools, students and local communities.

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Back when I worked with the World Bank's infoDev program, one of my responsibilities was to serve as a point person on 'mobile money' issues, briefing groups on emerging lessons and experiences from nascent activities to use mobile phones to transfer money from one person to another. I left infoDev in 2008, just as activities in this regard were really starting to heat up (Kenya's M-Pesa program, the best known 'mobile money success story', launched in 2007), but continued to meet semi-regularly with folks -- colleagues from the World Bank and other international donor agencies, government officials, NGOs and foundations, businesspeople, researchers -- who were interesting in exploring how new mobile payment options might be used in inventive ways to help address some longstanding developmental challenges. (Those totally new to the topic may benefit from watching this short video from CGAP, which demonstrates how mobile money activities look in practice.) Most of these conversations, as it happens, included considerations of how money transfers via mobile phones might be used to ensure that teachers got paid, in full and on time. As I prepare for a trip next week to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I realize haven't fielded one substantive information request related to this topic in the past three years.

Up until about 2010, I met quite often with groups who were looking for creative ways to help address the 'paying salaries to teachers in rural areas challenge' and who had seized on the idea of taking advantage of the increasing ubiquity of mobile phones in such areas to help fashion some sort of 'solution'.  In the last three years, however, the volume around these sorts of discussions in many quarters has almost died out. Part of this might be explained by the fact that there are now many 'experts' on mobile money issues, people much more expert and well informed than I am about related issues, and so I simply might be 'out of the loop'. (Back in the 'early days' of work on this topic, I could never shake the nagging feeling that the reason that I was approached by so many groups for related information and advice was at least partially a result of the 'in the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king' phenomenon.) That said, given that a regular part of my daily work at the World Bank is to field questions related to the use of new technologies in education in all sorts of ways around the world, and that a lot of my job isn't so much about in providing answers, but about helping people formulate better questions, the fact that this question seems no longer to be a topic of much discussion makes me wonder:

Whatever happened to the idea of paying teacher salaries with mobile phones?

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Is Connectivity a Human Right?
Facebook

“For almost ten years, Facebook has been on a mission to make the world more open and connected. Today we connect more than 1.15 billion people each month, but as we started thinking about connecting the next 5 billion, we realized something important: the vast majority of people in the world don't have access to the internet.

Today, only 2.7 billion people are online -- a little more than one third of the world. That is growing by less than 9% each year, but that’s slow considering how early we are in the internet’s development. Even though projections show most people will get smartphones in the next decade, most people still won’t have data access because the cost of data remains much more expensive than the price of a smartphone.

Below, I’ll share a rough proposal for how we can connect the next 5 billion people, and a rough plan to work together as an industry to get there. We'll discuss how we can make internet access more affordable by making it more efficient to deliver data, how we can use less data by improving the efficiency of the apps we build and how we can help businesses drive internet access by developing a new model to get people online.” READ MORE 
 

Media (R)evolutions: How Many Kenyans Use Mobile Money?

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

This week's Media (R)evolutions:  How Many Kenyans Use Mobile Money?






















 

Sondeando el aprendizaje móvil alrededor del mundo (parte uno y dos)

Carla Jimenez Iglesias's picture

lo que constituye un ‘aparato móvil’ puede estar algunas veces en el ojo del que lo mira"Sondeando el aprendizaje móvil alrededor del mundo (parte uno)

Hace cerca de cuatro años, el programa del Banco Mundial infoDev aseguró el financiamiento para hacer un ‘sondeo global del uso de móviles en la educación en países en vías de desarrollo’, con base en la creencia de que la creciente disponibilidad de los pequeños dispositivos conectados, más conocidos como ‘teléfonos móviles’, iba a tener cada vez mayor relevancia para los sistemas escolares alrededor del mundo. Cuando vimos lo que estaba ocurriendo en este sentido en la mayor parte del mundo, observamos que (aún) no estaba pasando nada efectivamente, y así concluimos que no sería todavía demasiado útil hacer un sondeo global de conocimiento experto sobre la potencial relevancia futura del uso de teléfonos móviles en la educación. Por esto, así como por lamentables retrasos burocráticos internos, terminamos abandonando este proyecto de investigación, con la esperanza de que otros pudieran continuar un trabajo similar cuando el tiempo fuese propicio. (El financiamiento se reprogramó para apoyar a EVOKE, el ‘juego serio’ en línea del Banco Mundial. La segunda versión del mismo está programada para lanzarse en setiembre en portugués e inglés, tanto para PCs como para móviles, con un énfasis especial en Brasil.) Unas cuantas organizaciones involucradas en la Alianza de m-Educación, un esfuerzo internacional de colaboración en el que participa el Banco Mundial para explorar intersecciones de punta entre móviles, educación y desarrollo, y para promover el uso compartido de conocimiento colectivo, recién ha publicado unos breves ensayos que han logrado gran parte de lo que se quiso hacer con este tipo de sondeos. Echaremos una mirada a estos esfuerzos esta semana en el blog EduTech: el primero de ellos es dirigido por UNESCO, el segundo  por la Fundación Mastercard, que trabaja con la Asociación GSM.

Surveying Mobile Learning Around the World (part two)

Michael Trucano's picture

your perspective on mobiles depends on your point of viewThis week we are looking at two sets of new reports that provide insights into the area of 'mobile learning' -- especially the use of handheld devices like mobile phones to help meet a variety of educational objectives. Earlier this week we devoted a post to twelve new reports from UNESCO that provide a broad overview of what is happening in different regions of the world in this area. Shaping the Future – Realizing the potential of informal learning through mobile [pdf], which was released at last week's eLearning Africa event in Benin, provides a nice complement to the UNESCO working paper series.  Whereas the UNESCO reports collectively provide some very useful insights on the supply side, surveying notable 'm-learning' programs currently underway around the world, Shaping the Future examines the demand side of the equation:

"In late 2011, researchers went into four very different emerging markets – Ghana, Morocco, India and Uganda – and asked 1,200 people (aged 15-24) about their day-to-day lives, their ambitions, their education, the way they use mobile now and how mobile could help them achieve their aspirations in the future. At the same time, over 250 young people from those countries took part in detailed focus group discussions where, with great generosity, they shared their hopes, worries and beliefs with us."

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Guardian
How citizens can make development happen

"The future of development lies in the hands of millions of citizens. It's a bold statement by Rakesh Rajani, founder of Twaweza, who was in London for the debate on the future of aid organised by the Overseas Development Institute. Only two years old, Twaweza, which means "we can make it happen" in Swahili, is attempting to do just that across three east African countries, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Rajani's strategy is to spread information, believing that crucial to the process of development is access to ideas. Twaweza focuses on what it believes are the five main routes for people to hear new ideas in the region: religion; mobile phones; mass media, in particular radio; fast-moving consumer goods; and teachers. Twaweza builds partnerships in all these areas to spread ideas, draw in new voices and open up conversations. It works rather like a venture fund, initiating ideas and getting new organisations off the ground. Rajani cites Amartya Sen's comment that poverty is not about a lack of money, but about a lack of options. His aim is to find new ways to intervene in people's lives to widen their options." 

Mobile learning in developing countries in 2011: What's new, what's next?

Michael Trucano's picture

After finding out that I had visited the recent BETT show in London (billed as the world's largest educational technology trade show -- previous post here), a number of people who also attended asked me versions of the same query:

Where was all of the mobile (phone) learning?