Guest Post: How m-learning can revolutionise teaching in Africa

by Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, chairman of the Planet Earth Institute (PEI)

Widely recognised as an Angolan philanthropist and entrepreneur, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho is also chairman of the Planet Earth Institute (PEI), a charity whose goal it is to bring scientific independence to Africa. The PEI has also recently conducted consultations on m-learning/m-education . Here Dr Sobrinho looks at how m-learning can revolutionise learning in Africa.

I’d define m-learning (mobile learning or m-education) as learning that occurs through portable devices, such as mobile phones or tablets.

According to a 2012 World Bank report, Africa has 650 million mobile subscribers, 26 times more than a decade ago.

However, PEI’s (2013) m-learning consultation reveals incompatibility between traditional schooling and m-learning.

I’d argue that m-learning should be integrated with educational strategies and teachers and users of mobile educational tools should be trained better.

Furthermore, I’d say that the growth of m-learning is unstoppable and that the educational system should seize its opportunity to make learning more relevant and intuitive by integrating with m-learning.

Admittedly, formal teaching is irreplaceable. However, m-learning is also benefiting Africa’s development, therefore just as relevant.

I’d add, however, that whilst children are empowered by being able to access educational resources on their phones, teachers are left out of the development process for these resources.

In addition to benefiting children, I believe that m-learning will help close the skills-gap when basic management and health and safety courses are made available on tablet, in the near future.

I’d anticipate the use of SMS (text), web-based and preloaded apps onto devices to make programs from companies such as Skills@Work available.

Skills@Work is an exciting new company specialising in education and training software delivered on mobile devices.

However, m-learning faces certain challenges: – internet connexion cost; the complexities of content development; lack of collaboration between institutions and educational ministries ;and inappropriate funding.

In spite of this, African countries are starting to integrate the use of SMS services in their educational programmes, focused on teachers, as well as students.

Additionally, a best practice and case study compilation is under way from UNESCO.

My most inspirational m-learning initiatives include the m-banking revolution led by M-PESA, and the Uhahidi platform, which shares geo-tagged eye-witness reports.

Among the organizations that have shown their support for m-learning initiatives, I’d list UNESCO, the World Bank, Nokia, Vodafone, GSMA, the SmartWoman Project and he mentions that he would like to see more involvement from technology-centric businesses.

Based on PEI’s consultation, the institute is developing a pilot project in partnership with a university in Ghana, to allow it to integrate with mobile devices.

My advice for m-learning projects is to involve all stakeholders from the onset, to assess the devices realistically, to continuously re-design textbooks, to record and share experiences and to think ahead.

Finally, I’d like to single out UNESCO’s (2013) ‘Turning on mobile learning‘; the  GSMA’s ‘Transforming learning through mEducation‘ as useful m-learning resources.

I’d also like to applaud the involvement of Steve Vosloo, Professor  John Traxler and Dr Niall Winters for their work with the PEI.

Author biog

Dr Álvaro Sobrinho is a prominent Angolan businessman and philanthropist. Born and raised in Angola, Álvaro has been at the forefront of the rise of one of Africa’s most powerful economies and is now devoted to his mission to empower the continent through investment in science, technology and advanced academic training. Following the completion of the United Nations sponsored International Year of the Planet Earth in 2009, Álvaro was one of the key founding members of the PEI as a means to bring academia, governments and the private sector together to develop innovative, locally-led projects to train a new generation of African scientists.

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