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Is Mobile Learning the Solution for Improving Literacy in Schools?

The power of literacy lies not only in the ability to read and write, but also in a person’s capacity to apply these skills to effectively connect, interpret and discern the details and ideas of the world in which they live. It is safe to say that we all recognize this need, no one wants to be illiterate! But what if you had no choice? What if your social circumstances like the school you go to, or the community you live in made it impossible for you to learn to read?

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A staggering 73% of the 233.5 million children in the India, between the ages of 6 and 14,  live in precisely these types of conditions (Census 2011). The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) published by the non-profit Pratham Education Foundation reported some disturbing findings about the state of education in rural India, which still accounts for 70% of India’s population of 1.2 billion. While enrolments in elementary education is almost at 100%, education outcomes, as measured by abilities in reading, writing and doing maths, have deteriorated among children between the ages of 6 and 14.

The bottom line is that India has a crisis of learning. This obviously has grave implications for the future of a growing global economy that was looking to leverage its demographic dividend. At a global scale, countries run the risk of raising generations of semi-literate young people that will not be able to handle even simple work related tasks, let alone complex economic and innovation challenges.

Experts have weighed in on the causes of this ‘global pandemic’. Yes, illiteracy is dangerous, possibly as much as an ebola outbreak! Catherine Jere, Research Officer, Unesco Education for All global monitoring report reminds us of one serious cause – there is a global shortage of teachers! Moving beyond access to improve the quality of education available to all is vital to address the learning crisis. She among many others, know that teachers are central to this. Vikas Pota, Chief Executive, Varkey Gems Foundation, says the crux of improving the quality of education lies in engagement – whether it be the engagement of parents by teachers, teachers of their students, or the engagement and training of teachers in effective learning techniques. Catherine Henny, Education Operations Officer, Global Partnership for Education comments that more local language books are needed! Access to reading and other materials in mother-tongue languages has had a significant impact on learning in the early grades. Many organisations such as Room to Read and Save the Children are working to publish titles in local languages.

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Each of these causal factors suggest a strong intervention plan that can help tackle illiteracy. However these interventions require not only depth of impact but a large scale of impact. One way to achieve this is to create mobile based content that can be easily consumed for learning by anyone, anytime, anywhere. In the longer term, working with mobile devices will not only be a part of students’ everyday lives as adults, but it will also be vital part of many career paths. Knowing how to appropriately use mobile devices is an important aspect in this increasingly connected world. In order to properly prepare students for the future as they transition into the workforce, incorporating mobile technology in the classroom is key.

In India, though we’re still catching up with respect to tech integration in the classroom, mobile phones and networks are now cheaper than ever before and more readily available across the world! This presents educators with an innovative and pervasive new medium to disseminate learning content to students in and outside the classroom! Teachers can not only receive new learning strategies but access resources to help them deliver learning in class.  

But what are the real benefits of mobile based learning? Flexibility to learners! Learning can happen not just in the classroom, but quite literally anywhere else as well. Students are no longer restricted to being physically close to a teacher or expert to learn, because the mobile app has already captured the essence of what needs to be learnt or taught. Mobile based learning can also help achieve better completion rates and higher retention. Performance support from mobile apps that are unobtrusive to their daily routine creates a learning habit that yields higher quality of performance. Learners also find and retrieve just-in-time information easily using their personal mobile devices.

At Zaya, we’ve developed English Duniya a fun way for students in India to learn English with Hindi. The lesson plans are customised for every child and are based on his learning pattern and skill level. With this app, kids between the age group of 8-12, can learn English through a series of videos and interactive practice questions. The app is packaged in the form of a game where the child needs to unlock various levels and earn points on the way. The app also works offline and offers content for grades 1-3 and will be available in many more languages and grades going forward. The user interface is child friendly and engages the user at multiple levels.

With apps like this and many more out in the market, the hope for social enterprises like Zaya, is to swiftly address the literacy crisis, that is crippling the education system from the inside. But these apps and the use of technology for learning, needs a real champion, a parent or teacher to push forward its adoption and use of mobile technology in the classroom and at home, for learning purposes.

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