From e-learning to m-learning: Trends in South Asia

17 Nov

E-learning is a way of learning by using the information technology trends. It enables people to learn any time and any where. It is a fast growing application in the world, it is widely used in universities, enterprises, communities as a typical technical-driven application, and the development of e-learning has close relationship with information technology such as computer network, cellular phone network, and multimedia technology. The use of cellular phone, in particular, for the purpose of education has led to the coinage of the term ‘mobile learning or m-learning’. It is slightly different from e-learning, which aims to do the same but through the medium of laptops and computers. Hence, e-learning is location bound; while mobile learning allows one to attend lectures, read, and ask teachers questions from any where and at any time.

The use of mobile phones in education in South Asia has increased in the last few years. The time constraints, average or below average standards of living make ‘education’ the only option for moving ahead in the competitive world for third world countries. The ‘digital divide’ is a very significant issue especially after the swift penetration of technology in our lives. The affluent North and the deprived South are incompatible with each other. Major difference between both the spheres of the globe lies in the disparity among literacy rates and the access to technology. There are some parts of the globe where villages are equipped with an internet connection and there are other parts where there is no electricity even.

However, the South Asian region, residing in the Southern sphere of the globe is cognizant of the challenges that it has to face. It has embarked upon a plan to utilize cost effective technology for the purpose of education. The high rate of penetration of cellular phones is now being considered for broader visions and constructive aims by the less privileged countries. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which includes; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is also utilizing the ‘m-learning’ mode.

According to the website of Afghan Institute of learning (AIL), despite all odds and after a decade of war, Afghanistan is tuning her communication capabilities. Begun in June 2011, AIL and Georgetown University’s Afghan Women’s council joined forces to pilot a new mobile literacy project. The goal is to reinforce literacy skills among newly literate women and girls in rural Afghanistan, and to provide them with the opportunity to use mobile phone technology, and thus communicate with their peers, mentors, and family. The program also has a social benefit enabling communication between young people and especially women who may be restricted in when and where they can go out from the home. More communication brings more sharing and support and helping each other this rebuilds the fabric of caring, supportive community which is crucial to healthy societal resurgence in Afghanistan.

Bangladesh is among those countries in the world which has presented a model of ‘mobile phone access’ in rural areas. According to Sylhet Times (Digital), “mobile users in Bangladesh have accessed more than 1 million English lessons using a service called BBC Janala (Window) in the year 2010”.In Bangladesh, the BBC Janala project used the internet and fast-growing mobile technology, which offers a wide range of people inexpensive access to English learning materials at any time and at any place. BBC Janala has transformed the cellular phone into a cost-effective education device by offering hundreds of 3 minutes audio lessons and SMS quizzes through people’s handsets. The project is funded by the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) through English in action, a major educational initiative launched to raise the language skills of 25 million people in Bangladesh by 2017.

Bhutan is witnessing a poor IT infrastructure combined with cultural resistance. This is impeding the ‘m-learning’ mode of education over there. Bhutan has a stated policy of resisting ‘inappropriate’ westernisation. Given their existing system whereby the student travels to the appropriate college, there is less need to develop a truly distributed university. Introducing elements of resource-based and student-centred learning for campus students, however, may be the way forward to taking advantage of the best aspects of flexible learning.

The mother of democracy and by far the most technologically advanced country in the South Asian Region, India, is now one of the fastest growing markets for mobile phone services, with growing usage and increasing penetration. The Biju Patnaik University of Technology (India) started a service in collaboration with GupShup called the BPUTALERT, which distributes information, academic notices and calendars through SMS to students. Voice-tap is another service using which people can send their queries through SMS, and the company messages back names of experts on the subject, and then users can connect to the right expert. Another initiative, mGurujee, allows users to download questions and take tests to evaluate themselves. The service also allows people to receive reference content even if they are outside and away from their books. Users just need to register at the mGurujee portal to access free content.

Maldives and Nepal have still a long way to go in order to achieve the aim of m-learning. Whereas in Sri Lanka, mobile phones are not too costly and easily available. The users are well acquainted with their functions, it is worth exploring the use of mobile phones for teaching and learning science. The penetration level of mobile phones in Sri Lanka is about 55% and it is much higher than that of computers. The Government of Sri Lanka has banned students from using mobile phones in schools after an unfortunate incident. However, a set of mobile phones belonging to schools which are on a private network. This will enable to harness the potentials of the mobile phones to make the teaching and learning process more effective.

In the homeland, Pakistan, UNESCO has collaborated with Nokia to launch Mobile Learning Project for Teacher’s Professional Development in Pakistan. Through the project “Mobile Learning for Teachers” Nokia’s Education Delivery application will help UNESCO to enable the delivery of high-quality educational materials to teachers who lack training and resources though mobile phones giving an opportunity to teachers to train themselves on the same level as professionally competent teachers.

At a micro level, I managed to conduct an online survey to know how cellular phones are influencing the learning behaviour of ‘Pakistani students’. The respondents belonged to an age group of “18 to 25 years”. The following questions were put forward:

Q 1: How often do you use internet through cellular phone?

44% of the respondents claimed that they do net surfing daily via cellular phones, 28% claimed that they browse via cellular phones weekly while another 28% claimed that they rarely use the internet via cellular phones.

Q 2: Does cellular phone help you to increase your general knowledge?

57% percent of the respondents declared that cellular phones do increase their general knowledge while 43% negated this notion.

Q 3: What is the proportion of forward text messages that you receive daily?

Around 50% of the respondents chose the option of satirical and funny texts particularly the ones’ in which the politicians are ridiculed. 36% of them claimed that they receive quotations and texts with useful information. Only 14% claimed that they receive texts pertaining to religious knowledge.

Q 4: How often have you used a cellular phone to make an assignment or to prepare for a surprise quiz?

57% of the respondents revealed that they use the cellular phone for the academic purposes mentioned in the question ‘sometimes’. 29% of them ‘rarely’ use it in the mentioned circumstances and only 14% of them use a cellular phone every now and then for accomplishment the academic requirements.

This succinct survey has its limitations, but it clearly depicts that ‘m-learning’ mode is gaining momentum among the educated youth of Pakistan. The challenge for Pakistan is to ensure the uniformity of this ‘technological learning pathway’.

Originally published in the October issue of Phone World Magazine.


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