Mobile technology is rapidly transforming the lives of the poor, not only through communication, but also through innovations like mobile banking. Now, mobile technology is being used for education - specifically through texting.

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Photo Credit: Handshake, IFC

Photo Credit: Handshake, IFC

New technologies have brought education within reach for millions—just look at the boom in online courses offered by universities. Coursera, for example, offers free online courses in partnership with some of the world’s top universities, including Princeton and Stanford. But what about people without access to the Internet, especially those living in remote areas? Can technology do something to give them access to learning opportunities?

It turns out it can—through mobile phones. Mobile technology is rapidly transforming the lives of the poor, not only through communication, but also through innovations like mobile banking, which have managed to reach even isolated communities in Mongolia. Now, mobile technology is being used for education. Even the humble text message can help share knowledge in remote places.

An article in the latest issue of Handshake, IFC’s quarterly journal on PPPs, provides several concrete examples from Mali to the Philippines. For example, a UNESCO project in Pakistan targeting women demonstrated that mobile-based literacy programs can work. Women received 6-8 text messages daily, which they used to practice reading and writing. It was also interactive—the women were expected to send back answers. In Bangladesh, the BBC is using mobile technology to teach English, and in the Philippines, classrooms use it to access educational video content.

Is mobile learning here to stay, or is this just a development gimmick? Given the success that mobile banking has achieved in isolated places, my guess is that it is here to stay. The target audience is likely to be receptive. A recent South African study demonstrated that young people, already comfortable with mobile technology, reacted positively to SMS-based learning. All it needs is some institutional muscle to design materials and courses, and provide some degree of interaction. Universities, mobile phone companies, and development institutions have the knowledge and resources to do that.

I’d be interested in knowing about other learning programs using mobile-based technology, especially to reach people in remote places. If you have knowledge or experience on this topic, please write a comment.  It’s a development well worth following.

To learn more about PPPs and learning, read the latest issue of Handshake (Issue #8), or become a subscriber.