More Africans learn by mobile phone

The eLearning Africa 2011 conference highlighted the worldwide phenomenon of distance learning by mobile phone. There are more than 500 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa now, up from 246 million in 2008, according to industry estimates.

By Ludger Kasumuni in Dar es Salaam

Presenting his paper on “New Technologies in Restricted Environment”, Gerald Henzinger, a lecturer at the Catholic University of Mozambique, said students are rushing to use mobile phone learning.

“The only challenge is that logistics do not match the exponential growth of students’ demand.“

A sustainable project in teacher training that began in 2003 is supported by student fees for distance learning.

“Mobile learning at our Distance Learning Center (CED) focuses on SMS. Our students often are school teachers in very remote areas who have restricted or no access to electricity and the Internet. We use bulk SMS – short messages that can be sent to many students at the same time – as well as interactive SMS services. These help students communicate with our staff about the subject matter or on administrative issues.”

Dr Niall Winters of the London Knowledge Laboratory said the development of mobile phone learning in Africa is being encouraged by a huge demand for distance education.

Digital storytelling

Arndt Bubenzer and Dennis Joseph Mazali presented the lessons learnt from iCall, interactive storytelling delivered via mobile phone. In terms of scale, it was noted that users in the differing fields of formal education, community affairs and work-based learning required different approaches.

Working in community affairs meant designing a system for users of low-level phones. Such solutions were determined to scale relatively easily. Replication however, would require system design and implementation skills. The development of user-generated story content on behavioural change was highlighted as a means of making stories relevant to listeners.

Mobile phones have evolved from a device for voice telephony to a handset that includes mobile Internet and social networking amongst its functions.

Studying mathematics

Riitta Vänskä, senior manager of Mobile and Learning Solutions in sustainability operations at Nokia said students and teachers have used text messages and social media to exchange hints on topics and lessons, using Wikipedia and blogs.

Presenting her paper on “Nokia’s Investment in Education for All: Mobile Learning Solutions for Formal and Informal Learning”, she said, Children in South Africa are addicted to studying mathematics through mobile phones’, describing it as “cheap, efficient and very exciting“.

“Children study mathematics very effectively through the use of mobile phones. They really compete each other.  There are hints for every subject and topic“.

Students often have to share a mobile phone, so to improve supply, Nokia donated ten extra phones to each school. Using their own phones to send text messages and exchange ideas at low cost the young students had taken advantage of the low cost in South Africa of sending messages, only around 20 Rand a year.

“We hope that in the future all children will have equal access to education through mobile phone learning, Nokia has played a significant role in spreading mobile learning in Africa. We are collaborating with Pearson Foundation as content partner. Mobile phone learning is a really valuable investment.”

Promoting equity and equality

Vinod Ganjoo of U.S. based Harbinger Knowledge Products said mobile technologies are delivering equity and quality in the provision of education to young people.

He said mobile technologies have improved education opportunities for the poor communities, through blended learning and rapid interactivity.

“These new technologies have provided flexible and cheap learning channels for many students in classrooms and outside classrooms.“

According to industry estimates, there are more than 500 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa now, up from 246 million in 2008 (see the latest report by Mobile Monday).


  1. Josephine Kelso

    That’s a great step to use mobile phones for learning. Although African countries are truely restricted to Internet and electricity it will give a chance to get an education.

  2. That’s good news. If this is effective, then the African Government must do something more about it.

  3. Having spent many of my earlier years in South America I find myself amazed at the progress and seemingly infinite possibilities offered by today’s modern communications devices. What is unappreciated in the West is that the more simple the device the greater the potential for penetration into communities that can barely support anything more sophisticated than a radio.
    The mobile phone, as devices converge, suggests that many remote communities throughout the world have exciting futures.

  4. Nic Laycock

    Yes, e-learning Africa was exciting and an eye-opener to many who do not know Africa well about the huge creativity being shown in the use and application of mobile technology – providing learning in places that are otherwise lacking access.

    However it was at the same time sad to see so many tiny initiatives being “piloted” in so many places – all doing much the same thing, all learning the same lesson, with no shared learning, no hint at integration, no building of benefits of scale. Even the keynote that highlighted the issue stopped short of an y proposal for drawing together what his happening and being learned to transform Africa into the powerhouse continent for which it has the potential.

    There is a huge and desperate need to pull together and demonstrate benefit from its exploration of mobile learning before Africa once again misses the opportunity for leadership that, if not taken, will again result in other parts of the world turning its back on it.

  5. Dear Johan, Thanks for your interest in our news portal. I have forwarded your contact request to our reporter Ludger Kasumuni who will get in touch with you very soon.
    Best wishes, Andrea

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