An interview with Professor Francesc Pedró, who is leading UNESCO's work on mobile learning
With more than six billion mobile subscriptions worldwide and twice as many people accessing the Internet from a mobile device as from a desktop computer, the potential for mobile learning to empower individuals is clearly huge.
Mobile learning also plays a key role towards achieving UNESCO’s Education for All goals by 2015.
Nokia leading the way
Nokia has been working with UNESCO, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation, since 2010 on these Education for All targets and has also been a significant partner to help promote mobile learning.
Nokia’s services and technology have been instrumental in getting many of UNESCO’s mobile learning initiatives off the ground in many countries.
At UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week symposium in Paris this week, Nokia will be giving a keynote speech on Nokia Life, the suite of education and life services that has benefited over 90 million mobile phone users in countries such as India, China and Nigeria.
There will also be demonstrations of two Nokia tools that have been developed to aid learning.
Mobile Mathematics, or MoMaths, has already been used by 50,000 students in South Africa across 200 schools and is now being expanded as a global service.
Leading UNESCO’s work
Professor Francesc Pedró is leading UNESCO’s work in education and technology. From his office in Paris, he spoke to Conversations about mobile learning, the part that Nokia has played and why it can ultimately benefit teachers, pupils and whole families.
Can you quickly introduce mobile learning for us?
UNESCO has been working in this area for the past two years. We wanted to explore how we could use existing devices, particularly for teachers and parents, to promote literacy and education.
That was when mobile learning was mostly related to mobile phones but we have experienced a transformation of the concept of mobile learning since then.
There are now opportunities offered by devices, like tablets, and if you look at the number of countries that are offering one-to-one initiatives using tablets or smartphones, then it is really an explosion.
Currently, we are supporting countries in the exploration of mobile phones for learning purposes and we are doing this through the continuous professional development of teachers.
Are there benefits to mobile learning that you might not get with traditional teaching?
Mobile learning empowers the learner to continue learning because he or she will continue to be connected when they leave the classroom.
Through mobile learning we are providing educational opportunities not just for the pupil but also for the family, household and social environment. We have seen this happening in a number of countries.
Can you give us some examples of the initiatives where you are using mobile learning?
In Pakistan we are using mobile learning to empower women and young girls and we have projects in continuous professional development in Nigeria, Senegal, Mexico and Pakistan. We are doing this to make sure that we support teachers in upgrading their skills.
We are also using existing tools to provide teachers with access to videos on their mobile device that can be easily connected to a TV set so they can communicate this content in the classroom.
There are many ways you can use the technology. What matters is that mobile learning is not one single thing, it is the idea of empowering individuals.
What are the obstacles to mobile learning?
The most important barrier is bandwidth. In harsh or remote areas where mobile learning could provide some wonderful opportunities we are ill-served either because we don’t have the devices or more importantly because there is not enough bandwidth or connectivity.
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How has Nokia helped you?
Nokia approached us three years ago precisely with the idea of supporting UNESCO to become a powerful voice in the area of mobile learning. Almost no one was talking about mobile learning then.
Nokia has supported UNESCO financially and they have supported us in the review of existing initiatives all over the world.
Thanks to the support of Nokia we are also launching the UNESCO policy guidelines on mobile learning this week.
Nokia have made a very substantive contribution and we very much look forward to continuing this cooperation in the future.