Holding his tablet to the camera, David Puttnam (educator and expositor in the forum on mobile learning and policy
at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris) reminded the audience that the power to reach out to the world was now at everyone’s fingertips. From his home in Ireland, he was not only able to film his surroundings, but also lecture students in Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The future of education is incredibly exciting”, Puttnam told policymakers and education professionals at the UNESCO/ GSMA forum, part of the second UNESCO Mobile Learning Week (18 - 22 February 2013) which focused on achieving Education for All by increasing education access, quality and equality via mobile learning.
The outlook for mobile learning is promising. Mobile devices such as tablets, mobile phones and e-readers are being used by increasing numbers of people, with mobile phone subscriptions globally hitting a record-breaking high of 6 billion in 2012. As the cost of mobile phone ownership declines, mobile devices are being adopted in areas of great poverty, where even schools, books and computers are scarce.
The opportunities presented by mobile learning, particularly for learners who lack access to high quality education, is immense. One example of this, is the UNESCO Mobile Literacy Project in rural Pakistan
, which uses mobile phones to complement a traditional face-to-face literacy course for adolescent girls. The project has produced impressive results, with the number of girls receiving an 'A' grade upon completion of the literacy course jumping from 28% to 60% after the introduction of the mobile devices.
Despite the considerable potential however, mobile technology was still not being adequately leveraged for education purposes, Janis Karklins, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information told forum attendees. “We cannot continue to pretend that we live in the pre-digital era, and to do so risks plunging schools into irrelevance. We live in a world where many, if not most young people carry a powerful, easy mobile computer in their pockets”, he said. “The question is not whether schools and school systems will engage with these mobile technologies but when they will and how they will”.
To mark Mobile Learning Week, UNESCO launched a set of Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning, with Mr Karklins urging participants to join him in exploring how mobile technologies can widen learning opportunities for all. Anne Bouverot, Director-General of the GSMA, said she was confident mobile learning was ready to go to the next phase.
“We believe that we can go to the next level, and we can move to large-scale, government backed, successful, mobile education programs around the world”, Ms Bouverot proclaimed.