Mobilizing Education, Africa

mobileed_AFRICA In anticipation of the upcoming 5th annual conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training in Zambia at the end of the month, the online news portal eLearning AFria published an insightful interview with John Traxler, a leading thinker and proponent of mobile learning globally.

For the purpose of this post, I have included the most compelling sections of the interview below:

eLa: How far has mLearning actually come? John Traxler: Mobile learning across the world is facing challenges of breaking through from short-term pilots and trials to deployment that is large-scale, sustained, and sustainable, and is equitable, accessible, and inclusive. It has been possible to achieve some of these goals individually, but has proven far more difficult to achieve them in combination. Further progress will depend on rigorous and appropriate evaluation that talks to different stakeholders, for example, education ministry officials, commercial technologists, donors and teachers, and maybe learners in terms of the language, values, and priorities that are specific to them.

Of course, every country is different, and so mobile learning in South Africa is different from mobile learning in Kenya - two countries where I'm familiar with mobile projects. Each situation is different, so – for example - degree students at the University of Pretoria, primary teachers in Kenya and small-scale organic farmers in Kenya will all have some similarities, but, of course, differences also exist. Perhaps in these examples we should look at how we make links with agricultural extension workers, teacher trainers, or university lecturers globally and look for a matrix of mobile learning across countries and specialisms.

eLa: What are your findings so far? John Traxler: The project in Kenya using SMS to support in-service teacher training is now undergoing large-scale trials with thousands of primary teachers in districts across the country. I am now also involved in the early stages of another project, also in Kenya, but this time with BioVision and Avallain, to explore using mobile phones alongside web-based resources to support sustainable organic farming. I have had the chance to reflect on some of the possible lessons learnt. My experiences, however, have not led to lessons but to questions. Let me name some of them:

How do we strike a balance between short-term outcomes and benefits on the one hand and sustainability and maintainability on the other; and how do we define realistic and achievable exit strategies for our projects?

How do we transfer and generalise what we learn; how do we decide what to scale up and what to throw away?

How do we devise effective and appropriate evaluation and monitoring procedures; how do we uncover ‘soft outcomes’ and ‘distance travelled’ in unfamiliar cultures and classrooms?

How do we strike a balance between development, implementation, and delivery on the one hand and disseminating and networking on the other; and how do we strike a balance between informal or local practice and attempts at influencing policy at a higher level?

How do we reduce one ‘digital divide’ without creating or increasing others?

How do we know what to try to change and what to try to preserve when working with local, official, or traditional systems and institutions?

These issues may be generic and probably not limited to eLearning, and so further contact with the growing ICT4DEV may help us reach sensible, sensitive and robust systems for using technology to support, enhance, and deliver learning in Africa.

Interested readers may find a transcript from the complete interview here