Surveying the use of mobile phones in education worldwide


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image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, sourced from Flickr user saschapohflepp, used according the terms of its Creative Commons licenseThe Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools in India has just announced a mobile phone ban, echoing similar calls in many other places (from Sri Lanka to South Korea, from the UK to the Philippines to France) to restrict student access to what are often seen as 'devices of distraction'.

Why then will the World Bank will be kicking off a study next month looking at "The Use of Mobile Phones in Education in Developing Countries"?

While the explosive use of mobile phones in developing countries is well-documented -- and undeniable -- and evidence is emerging that phones are slowly making their way into the hands of teens, just what this might mean for the delivery of education in developing countries is a little less clear. Despite growing hype, there are still precious few widespread examples of the use of phones for education purposes inside or outside of classrooms in developing countries that have been well documented, and fewer still that have been evaluated with any sort of rigor.

This study is intended to help to raise awareness among key decisionmakers in the public, private and civil society sectors about the potential importance of the use of low cost mobile devices -- especially mobile phones -- to help benefit a variety of educational objectives. By documenting the existing landscape of initiatives in this area and emerging 'good practice', it is also hoped that this work will serve as a common base for further analytical work in this area, and inform the impending explosion of development of new hardware, software and business services occurring on mobile devices, to the benefit of these educational objectives.

Much of what has been documented to date falls into one of three categories: (1) advocacy pieces about how phones *could* be used in education; (2) 'studies' of how phones have been used in a small pilot by one teacher somewhere; or (3) conceptual (often academic)  discussions of the potential utility of mobile phones within various learning environments (often drawing on rich existing research into the use of PDAs for learning).

This study proposes to:

  1. Map the existing universe of projects and initiatives exploring the use of mobile phones in education, with a specific attention to developing countries.
  2. Map the existing and potential uses of mobile phones in this regard, comparing and contrasting such uses with other ICT devices, relevant to specific education challenges, needs and contexts found in a number of developing countries
  3. Document lessons learned so far from key initiatives in this area, proposing tentative guidance for policymakers and various stakeholder groups in this fast moving area.
  4. Propose a conceptual framework and way forward for further analytical work to aid in the documentation and rigorous impact cost and impact assessment of the use of mobile phones in education.

We'll be using this blog to post preliminary findings for discussion and comment as they are available.

Where are good sources to turn to learn from actual practice?  All suggestions are welcome.

More information:

Note: The image at the top of this blog posting comes courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, sourced from Flickr user saschapohflepp, used according the terms of its Creative Commons license.

This month's on-line Educational Technology debate from infoDev and UNESCO looks at issues related to "Can eBooks Satisfy? Creating Content for ICT-enabled Classrooms". Angus Scrimgeor, the president of the International Association for Digital Publications, will be facing off against Richard Rowe, the Chair and CEO of the Open Learning Exchange (and former Associate Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education). 

Everyone is invited to join in the discussion!


Michael Trucano

Global Lead for Innovation in Education, Sr. Education & Technology Policy Specialist

Laura Cz
August 07, 2009

This study is especially important in contexts like South Africa where the digital divide is effectively getting worse as broadband creates new chasms in society, and mobile web access open up opportunities for digital inclusion. Connectivity is the central issue of the day.

August 11, 2009

You nailed it. I was going through the ETD site and was wondering about the same.

Education is a constant and continuous stream of information passed on to students. For many reasons mobile phone can never be used (as is now)

i) Mobile phone may become opportunity for examination malpractices
ii) Mobile with camera creates lots of teenage related issues (sex, violence etc.,) within school environment.
iii) educational content cannot be served to millions over phone (cost).
iv) Mobile phones are distracting while at school than enhancer.
v) SMS and MMS are play things for teens than educational.

However, special mobiles with only data transfer from schools and colleges may help... will the service providers take it? No.


Michael Trucano
August 11, 2009

The ETD side to which Kasi refers in the comment above is the Educational Technology Debate site sponsored by infoDev and UNESCO at

Michael Trucano
August 11, 2009

Many thanks to all of the groups and organizations who have contacted me (via email, phone and Twitter) in the past few days about this upcoming project. It is great to see that there is so much interest!

We do hope to formally partner with one or more organizations during the course of this work, and with many more groups in various informal ways.

Any consulting opportunities that arise in the course of this work will be announced on this blog and through the @WBedutech Twitter account, in addition to the normal channels.

Beginning in September, we will begin to sketch out the scope of work under this project more concretely, in consultation with a wide group of stakeholders. There is a lot of potential ground to cover here. Where does it make sense for the World Bank to concentrate its efforts? Are there on-going or planned initiatives with which we should align? We certainly don't want to duplicate what others are already doing.

One thing we hope to do with this work is to help build bridges between communities of practice and expertise emerging around this topic around the world with policymakers in government, and their various 'developmental partners', for whom this topic will be (we think) of increasing relevance in the years to come.

Olubodun Olufemi
August 13, 2009

I respect your opinion Kasi but hold a different position. I am not sure if the undeniable evidences in the literatures support your position as the vast uses of mobile phones in education is gaining useful attention and research with well-defined advantages.
I strongly believe that if you have look up the literatures you will perhaps see that issues of connectivity, cheap cost and wide spread uses of mobiles phones around the world and especially developing countries where electricity and broadband have continuosly hindered implementation of technology in education as some of the advantages anyone could point at and this is constituting serious thinking among educators around the world. Yes there could be wrong uses of it but I will say that it is the same with wrong uses of secondlife which some 'hates' because it is common to see bad sexual practices there. Like any tool it could be used well or badly but it does not dismiss its importance.
Technology is evolving and so all the points you raised are not beyond what human mind could tackle. I therefore support this project

August 14, 2009

I also support the activity... in fact any activity which could enhance the education.

My point was the cellphone "as is" may not serve the indented purpose.

Good luck and looking forward to have Cellphone-like device which will be useful for my son.

August 16, 2009

It seems to me that this will be a very important study to provide some background to the use of mobile/cell phone technology & culture to enhance global knowledge and understanding. I believe that much of the success of the use of mobile phone technology will be based on the success of teachers in developing agreed values and ethic along with instilling independent learning practices in students. I have no doubt that the same issues were confronted by parents/educators in the past when they sent their children to school where they would be with many other children - 'they will never learn like this they will just play and talk' ... but protocols (values/ethics) and discipline had to be designed for this. The same for teaching children to read and write. There were undoubtedly cases where children duped their parents who were illiterate. Teachers were never able to stop the whispering or note-passing in class nor the naughty children using the dictionary or library finding inappropriate materials.
What is important is that we capitalise on a cost effective way of engaging children in learning in a medium that they can relate to and using applications that are applicable. Just like our past educators used the games of the times to teach we must adapt and engage our scholars the same. Let's face it; it is going to be more pervasive not less. Let's do what the best colonialists have done. Not fight it but encompass it.
Rather than argue about whether we should let's explore how we can do it best.

Michael Trucano
August 19, 2009

Those of you interested in this topic may also wish to see two recent reports commissioned by the Commonwelath of Learning (COL):

Using Mobile Technology for Learner Support in Open Schooling (Developing Countries)…
[pdf, 1.12 MB]

Using Mobile Technology for Learner Support in Open Schooling (Europe)…
[pdf, 432k]

AK Shaikh RSU
August 17, 2009

I fully support the view that mobile phones may have myriad potential uses. The extent of its acceptance and use in the developing countries in every day life is phenomenal. Hence it offers the greatest potential if rightly used and harvested in education sector.

In Sindh province of Pakistan, we have had a very interesting idea on a potential use of SMS through Mobile phones. Our challenges is how to create audit trail of uses of funds disbursed to School Management Committees (equivalent of Parent Teacher Councils). The idea under consideration is to obtain a central SMS box facility with a cellular company for storing transaction information from all School Management Committees as soon as they intend to spend funds. Every time the SMCs will send in an SMS at a designated number some specific information in accordance with simple prescribed protocols. The SMS received will confirm the unique ID of the SMC and its account and confirm the information is appropriately recorded, and will also inform the sender of the balance of amount remaining with it [ funds lie with the SMC at their local bank account].

The central monitoring agency in this case, let's say, education department, may access information on SMC expenditures, both district wise, or even school wise, and can send a field monitoring team to check if the transactions reported did result in the goods promised to be purchases.

This initiative may resolve the major challenge of creating an audit trail in real time basis. If used successfully, it will offer plethora of opportunities for its use in obtaining monthly enrolments and drop outs. This may be just the beginning.

Best regards,

AK Shaikh
RSU, Sindh, Pakistan

Steve Rynecki
September 23, 2009

One ionteresting example of a for-profit training company leveraging mobile devices for training is BarBri's Bar Exam Review package. Here's the link

My colleague used this system and passed the Florida Bar on his first attempt. While he's quite bright and motivated, it is also a testament to the fact that training apps for iPods / iPhones and iTouch are a reality and should be explored in the formal education environment.

Ichiro Miyazawa (UNESCO Islamabad)
September 02, 2009

Dear friends,

Let me inform you about our literacy programme with mobile phones.

We are implementing this programme with a NGO and a Mobile carrier.

The idea is simple. By sending many interesting SMS in national language to learners (adolescent girls) every day and night , we try to keep up/enhance their literacy.

Learners are really having fun to read and write messages. Simply, they love to receive and send messages among friends.

Due to inadequate capacity of the mobile phone ($ 28) we provided, we can not send longer messages in Urdu.

However, I am sure that learners will have inexpensive smart phones like iphone, HTC, Blackberry, etc with gmail/hotmail/yahoo in due course (5 – 10 years time).

Then, we will be able to share more interesting texts, info, documents, and stories without any significant cost and interactions among learners will be unstoppable.

Though there are pros and cons in this approach, I am hoping it becomes the de-fact standard to eradicate illiteracy.

Your comments and advice would be highly appreciated. If you are interested in this initiative, I can send you the concept paper as well.

Best regards,

Ichiro Miyazawa

UNESCO Islamabad

Online Masters Degree
September 02, 2009

When I was taking my online masters degree, while it was very convenient, I wished that i could use my mobile phone to get access to my classes instead of carrying a laptop around. I think it is inevitable that more mobile phones will be used for education worldwide.

cheap computers
September 28, 2009

With the mobile phone and the personal computer market converging and because millions of people have their first Internet experience on a phone ... this somehow suggests that Nokia should jump into the laptop game.

October 23, 2009

I run a small organisation ... we operate a portal which allows you to create and deploy content via a number of web applications (recording forms, interactive maps, mobile decision trees, learning objects etc.)...we use the web browser to deliver this...what is interesting is the possibility to take web content offline - something that is now occuring in most desktop browsers and some mobile browsers - this means that you only need one connection point to download content and upload responses - I think this is the future for reaching as many devices as possible (although still some way off in terms of mass deployment).

Gonca Telli Yamamoto
November 14, 2009

Mobile phone usage in education will start with a supportive device for education. However future will be in mobile (convergent devices). This supportive activities are enrolment, monitoring, notification for the exams etc.

But this will be change as a search and record device and some extra add ins will help the exercises of the classes and to get aware of the environment.

I think there is a huge potential for these kind of improvements and there needs to be some structural change for the educational systems.

Mobiles Supplier
January 27, 2010

According to my point of view mobiles are become the part our life.But on the other hand we are using the facility in the wrong sense I mean that using the mobile in the class, SMS class mates during the lecture, watching adult clips on the mobiles and many wrong things are going on.
I suggest that during the lecture mobiles switched off permanently and if not then then strict actions should be taken against the student at the spot and punish them for there negligence.

February 01, 2010

When I was taking my online masters degree, while it was very convenient, I wished that i could use my mobile phone to get access to my classes instead of carrying a laptop around. I think it is inevitable that more mobile phones will be used for education worldwide.

Mukesh Gohel
February 26, 2010

We have successfully used cell phones in UG and PG studies in pharmacy.
PowerPoint presentations, videos of seminar/lectures, pictures of all pharmacy subjects, MCQ have been transferred to students mobile in laboratories/lectures.
Dr. Mukesh Gohel

Jakob K Bertel
March 06, 2010

Well, my experience with student creativity in exams shows that there are uncountable ways to use mobiles to cheat during exams, to collaborate on homework, etc. That is a much stronger incentive than any learning tools available for mobiles.

Just check this blog entry on bypassing phone bans for some techniques!


April 20, 2010

This is a wonderful idea for fostering reading and basic writing skills!

I guarantee that 12-13 year olds would LOVE to have an SMS version of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe appear in bits in their inbox!! They could have a blast rewriting their own version... "The Tell-Tale Coconut," for example...

For more advanced students, a few lines of poetry could be texted, with instructions to rewrite them in a different style, or to compose a few lines on a similar theme.


"so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

-- William Carlos Williams

From Wikipedia: William Carlos Williams (September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963) was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine. Williams "worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician"; but during his long lifetime, Williams excelled at both. [1]

Sample questions:
What depends upon a wheelbarrow?
What depends on rain?
What depends on chickens?

(for you techies out there, this Imagist poem makes a concrete image of a simple farm scene. ALL OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION rests on the work of the farmer...a point that can be drawn from students by a skillful teacher...)

May 02, 2010

I have read your article on the study to document the potential educational uses of mobile phones in developing countries.

As a teacher, I am very keen on the subject and am open minded in any debates on the issues of mobile phone use in schools.

It therefore disappoints me when sometimes certain aspects of mobile phones are over-emphasized and others ignored just in order for one to strengthen his/her argument. A case in point is the contribution by Kasi "Mobile phone can never be used in education". Although we should be entitled to our opinions, we should be fair in our arguments as not to deliberately ignore certain facts just in order to promote our views.

For example for each negative aspect of mobile phone listed by Kasi, there is a positive one as well. I am not arguing that mobile phones do not pose a challenge or that they are all positive. I just want us to be fair and point out both advantages and disadvantages, and have an open argument about them. That is because the fact remains that these are technologies that were designed with the goal of having a positive impact on the users. They were not designed so they can corrupt their users. Like any technology or good, it is up to us users to harness their positivity and address the challenge they pose as to minimize it's negative impact on the children.

In my opinion, there is a lot of good we can do with mobile phones. Besides, they are here to stay and any attempt to ban them or outlaw their usage is as unrealistic as banning children from watching television - some programs may be harmful for them, but at the same time there's a lot of good, so, rather manage their TV watching habits as banning them shows loss of control from a parent's side. The same analogy should apply to mobile phone use.

Michael Trucano
October 26, 2011

Hi Claudia,
Thanks for your question.
Not long after we posted this information, a number of other groups approached us, saying that they were interested in doing something similar (i.e. general surveys). Not wanting to duplicate efforts, our monies here were 're-programmed', with a focus on mobile learning in Brazil. I expect we'll start to results from this work in early 2012 -- by which time regional and global surveys of m-learning should also have appeared from (for example) UNESCO.
As soon as any information is available, I'll post it.

Claudia RO
September 17, 2011

What ever happened to this study? was it ever completed and posted?

I appreciate any information

Gabriel Omeje
April 30, 2013

I agree with Jakob K. Berthel that phones are the ultimate cheating tools. Students use phones to cheat in examinations. They rely on those outside to send answers into their phones and the candidate copies them into the answer sheet. To be frank, since the emergence of the cell phones, students do embark on self effort to pass their examinations. Please, visit for more information.