BBC: The future of education in Africa is mobile

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kindle-africa-schoolThe UN’s Steve Vosloo arrives at the same conclusion I drew five years ago from my experience in Grenada, specifically that increasing mobile bandwidth was the way to get data connections into every home (as opposed to cable or fiber solutions). From an educator’s perspective I instantly saw this as a way to get the strongly mobile- and cloud-based curricula I was designing into as many hands as possible.

While education struggles to cope, mobile communication has grown exponentially. Africa is today the fastest growing and second largest mobile phone market in the world. While in some countries – including Botswana, Gabon and Namibia – there are more mobile subscriptions than inhabitants, Africa still has the lowest mobile penetration of any market. There is plenty more growth to come. Over 620 million mobile subscriptions mean that for the first time in the history of the continent, its people are connected.

These connections offer an opportunity for education. Already, we are starting to see the beginnings of change. An increasing number of initiatives – some large-scale, some small – are using mobile technologies to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services. Mobiles are streamlining education administration and improving communication between schools, teachers and parents. The list goes on. Mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing education approaches, is supporting and extending education in ways not possible before.

This is the conclusion I made in 2009: that cloud- and device-based distance learning curricula were the single best, most reliable way to bring ‘first world’ education to the developing world, let alone represent a quantum expansion into untapped markets for online education. At the time the prevalent mindset was to adapt current web-based services for online on private servers. Cloud curricula aren’t subject to point-outages of power, servers, or internet. Providers of free cloud services (Google, for instance) don’t ‘do’ down. The First Law of Online Education is ‘Access is everything,’ and in places where cable or fiber internet are impracticable or prohibitively costly mobile internet –fueled by & in turn fueling the explosion in mobile devices & laptop-like 4G Chromebooks– is the only technology that can plug entire communities in with the flick of a switch. Those communities are then free to be informed, conduct commerce, or learn.

Read the remainder of Steve Vosloo’s story here.

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