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 Wednesday, February 19, 2014


How do we make educational materials accessible to a girl from a poor family in Africa where over 50% of her female peers will never go to school? How can we get books into the hands of the poorest people on Earth?

The answer, at least in the immediate term, is mobile devices – and more precisely, mobile phones. Mobile devices are the most successful and ubiquitous information and communication technology in human history. They are plentiful in places where books and schools are scarce.

In less than a decade, mobile technology has spread to the furthest corners of the planet. Of the estimated 7 billion people on Earth, 6 billion now have access to a working mobile phone. Africa, which had a mobile penetration rate of just 5% in the 1990s, is now the second largest and fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, with a penetration rate of over 60% and climbing.

Mobile devices are transforming the way we communicate, live and learn. We must ensure that this digital revolution becomes a revolution in education, promoting inclusive and better learning everywhere.

From 17 to 21 February 2014, the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week will explore how mobile technologies can meet the needs of educators and help them improve their effectiveness. Under the theme of “Empowering teachers with technology”, MLW 2014 will consider the benefits as well as challenges associated with mobile learning—such as ensuring equity of devices, online safety, limited mobile-friendly content and the need for teacher training. “Technology can be a powerful education multiplier, but we must know how to use it… On its own, technology is not enough. Empowerment comes from skills and opportunities to use them. It comes from quality content that is inclusive, that draws on local languages and knowledge systems,” said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova.

As mobile technology jumps from the margins of education to the mainstream, teachers will be key to the success of ICTs in teaching and learning. While not a panacea, mobile technology has a clear track record of improving educational efficiency. MLW 2014 will investigate how educators can best utilize mobile devices to achieve national and international learning objectives, including Education for All.

Despite impressive progress, the world is not on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline. To ensure universal primary education UNESCO estimates that 6.8 million teachers need to be hired worldwide by 2015: 1.7 million are needed to fill new posts and 5.1 million are needed to replace outgoing teachers. These shortages—both current and anticipated— impede a wide range of development efforts by preventing young people from gaining access to the high quality instruction needed to excel in knowledge-based societies. The shortage of trained and motivated teachers is most acute in parts of the world where more and better quality instruction is desperately needed. In light of the urgency of the global teacher crisis, UNESCO wants to better understand how mobile technology can help prepare new teachers and provide professional development to working teachers.

Compounding the challenges of teacher supply, are concerns about teacher quality. Many children who are in school fail to develop basic competencies. As the latest UNESCO Global Monitoring Report reveals, 250 million students worldwide cannot read, write or count, even after four years of school. Close to 775 million adults – 64% of whom are women – still lack reading and writing skills, with the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.

Improving educational access and quality requires political leadership, planning and action. To this effect, MLW 2014 will host a policy forum, symposium, research track, 11 half-day workshops, and 80 breakout presentations on the most cutting-edge topics, such as Open Educational Resources; classroom apps for smartphones and basic phones alike, content for tablets and netbooks; mobile learning pedagogics; building mobile learning apps; social media and more.

Mobile technologies hold the key to turning today’s digital divide into digital dividends, bringing equitable and quality education for all.

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