Mobiles in the classroom

I’ve just returned from the m4ed4dev conference in Washington D.C., which was an inspiring event focused on the use of mobile phones to deliver educational access to learners in developing economies.

The conference was run by USAID, jointly sponsored by the British Council, and brought experts from around the world together to study the future of education for development.

I gave a presentation about our part of this work.  We are incorporating mobile phones in our digital approaches to learning, which is especially important for people in less-developed parts of the world.

We’ve been running successful English programmes using text messages – most recently in Sudan – and we’re now building mobile phone apps as well. The market demand is huge – we launched our first apps, for the iPhone and Android, in summer 2010, and within  six months these had been downloaded over one million times.

When we talk about mobile, we don’t necessarily mean just phones, but mobile devices like the small laptops that One Laptop Per Child is a making available, or the Intel classmate device – as well as the now extremely popular tablets.

We are looking at a new kind of educational model called ‘1:1 computing’, where every learner has a mobile device to use in the classroom under the teacher’s supervision, on the bus home from school, or at home to do homework.

What’s exciting is the opportunity to reach learners and teachers who currently do not have easy access to internet, to television, to well-equipped schools – even to reliable electricity. We want to be able to use mobile to ‘connect the unconnected’.

Using this kind of mobile device in education brings many benefits. One is that you can make classroom lessons more motivating and more stimulating. You can bring in real news, meaningful text and images from the outside world and make the classroom up-to-the-minute and authentic in task and content.

Equally, if not more importantly, you can also extend the learning time beyond the lesson. We can use mobile devices to break down the walls of the classroom, and help disadvantaged children gain more access to education than they could possibly squeeze into the normal constraints of the school week.

The British Council is at the cutting edge of this development – we’ve been conducting experiments with mobile phone apps over the last year or so, and it is very validating to see that people from other fields of education and from other countries are very interested in what we’ve been doing, and many are striving to develop similar approaches for their areas of education.

Meeting professionals from around the world at this conference reinforces my feeling that we have a lot to learn from people in other areas and other regions, but also that we seem to be on the right track in terms of trying to develop a truly 21st-century approach to the challenges of education in the modern world.

This technology is clearly part of the future of education everywhere, and I want the British Council’s work in English for Development to be on the cutting edge, creating new learning models that allow us to make a really meaningful contribution to the lives of children in developing countries.

You can see my interview about this conference here.

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