As cell phones and other ICT devices have begun to take firm hold in the Asia-Pacific, governments and other institutions are beginning to discover their potential to enhance education and advance socio-economic development. Instead of being lregarded purely as consumer technology, cell phones are being viewed as tools that can serve as gateways to educational material. "By transcending physical and spatial constraints," as a UNESCO report puts it
, "ICT and mobile devices bring unprecedented educational opportunities to people of all socio-economic levels." The case of Pakistan illustrates the potential for cellular phone technology to promote educational goals.
As a big country that is struggling with a low literacy rate, Pakistan faces many challenges in its effort to improve education levels across the country. Aside from its rugged geography and political turmoil, Pakistan also confronts the issue of gender. The country's female literacy rate is around half that of the men, according to 1999 figures from the Japan International Cooperation Agency's Planning Department. For girls in rural areas, access to even primary education is limited due to social constraints. For secondary education, the enrollment rate for girls is a seventh of that for girls in urban areas. The Pakistani government has employed many traditional measures, such as distributing free textbooks for primary schools, but it has also placed its faith in new-age cellular technology to reach areas of the country easily and quickly.
The UNESCO report describes in detail an action plan titled "M-learning
for Female Technical Education in Rural Areas of Pakistan," proposed by an instructor at Islamabad's Polytechnic Institute for Women. The project aims to train technical teachers, who can then teach members of rural female communities. This will be done, according to the objectives of the project, through m-learning, using the reach and features of cell phone technology to impart skill-sets virtually.
The project is divided into two phases. The UNESCO outline describes it as follows:
"Phase 1: The m-learning centres will be set up in cities and towns that have telecom facilities and electricity, near villages where the mobile technical education is to be imparted. Initially, ten such cities and towns will be selected. Each teacher in these centres will be provided with mobile devices such as Pocket PCs and other necessary equipment. The teachers will be chosen from the villages where the training is to be imparted so that they will be willing to serve in their villages after completion of the training. Two teachers will be selected from each village and a total of 20 teachers will be trained in one centre. A total of 200 teachers will be trained within an estimated time period of one year. During this year the activities will include consultation, surveys, set-up of centres and training of teachers.
"Phase 2: The trained teachers will be assigned to their respective villages (two teachers per village), so that 200 teachers can train students from 100 villages. Student training will be conducted in mobile buses. The buses will be equipped with mobile devices which will be used in imparting training. The students can be given an incentive in the form of a scholarship based on good performance. This
phase will take one year."
This approach is very efficient in rural areas of developing countries where tradition is deeply rooted.
However, the local population must be won over to implement this kind of education. People are often doubtful about these methods and avoid participation, so they must receive explanations to help them understand the merit of the approach.
The program establishes and maintains m-learning training centers for female technical teachers’ training. The trained teachers impart technical training to the female population in rural areas using m-learning.
Goal: To increase in the skilled workforce and enable the female population of rural areas to participate in the formal workforce. These initiatives are monitored by the Federal and Provincial Ministries of Education, the Ministry of IT and Telecom,and the boards of technical education. They are still in the early stage of the process, but report significant progress.
Outputs: Mobile technical learning centers for teachers and students. Availability and willingness of women in the villages to be
trained as teachers. Survey by project implementation agency. A skilled work force will be able to initiate small businesses and promote development of rural areas.
<source>Mobile Learning for Expanding Educational Opportunities: Workshop Report
ICT in Education Unit, UNESCO Bangkok, 2005 by UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education