Mobile Learning writes a cautionary article about mobile learning in Africa and, while the title might seem negative, there’s no doubt there is an embrace of mobile learning technology to increase learning.

It’s key lessons are consistent with the problems of implementing technology anywhere: Primarily, projects need to be more about connecting people and less about technology. Additionally, that TEACHERS are a critical and essential component in ensuring the success of mobile learning.

Read the entire article below or from the web site.


Only projects that work with existing education systems will improve learning and cut poverty, says Niall Winters.

You’ve no doubt heard of the mobile phone revolution sweeping Sub-Saharan Africa — perhaps mobile money transfer, or mHealth. The hope is that mobile technologies will transform lives by improving health, education, finance and women’s position in society.

However, as knowledge management expert Piers Bocock notes, there is a vast disconnect between the companies that produce and market these technologies and on-the-ground implementers — with the hype perhaps best exemplified by former US President Bill Clinton.

Referring to a 2010 UN report, Clinton stated that mobile phones “are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty”. However, the report was clear that impact depends “on the context and on the environment in which ICTs are introduced and used”. [1,2]

Some may ask: what could be wrong with this focus on the mobile phone revolution? Don’t we all support progress?

In short, no.

While innovation is welcome, in some cases, how it is implemented risks increasing — not reducing — marginalisation. I’ll discuss just one example from education: teachers and their role in mobile learning projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Excluding teachers

Let’s begin with a simple question: when was the last time you heard the voice of teachers from Sub-Saharan Africa extolling the virtues of mobile phones in education? I’m not talking about nicely staged interviews — I mean really telling us how their teaching was fundamentally improved.

“It is a mistake to run down teachers’ professionalism to justify technology use in education.” – Niall Winters, University of London

Now, a second question: when was the last time you heard that teachers in Africa are not trained properly, are demotivated and that the formal education systems in which they work are weak? My hunch is that you’ve heard much more about this than you’ve heard teachers praising mobile technology.

My concern is that some people use the problems with education systems to justify excluding teachers from the design and development of mobile learning interventions. Teachers’ voices are marginalized. And mobile operators association GSMA (to take just one example) characterizes the teaching profession in a way that divorces it from progress and innovation.

The difficulties teachers face are used as a starting point for criticism, rather than as a motivation to address systemic issues. A good example of this is how the technology community has openly welcomed 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra’s work on learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge, even though his approach to achieving this is highly contested among educational researchers and practitioners. [3]

It is a mistake to run down teachers’ professionalism to justify technology use in education.

Creating an alternative vision

Instead, we need to create an alternative vision that values and prioritises teacher involvement in mobile learning.

First, begin by acknowledging that supporting teacher involvement is a messy, time-consuming and resource-intensive process. And commit to it — there is no magic technology bullet.

Second, understand that many teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa work under tough conditions; and build on research that analyses how these affect their teaching. An in-depth 2012 study in Tanzania, for example, found that teachers wanted to improve their qualifications and be respected but were constrained by resource limitations and the demands of daily life, which UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) clearly recognizes: overcrowded classrooms, malnourished students, low pay and a high-pressure workload. [4]

Third, learn from the One Laptop per Child program. Its uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa was generally judged to have failed because of a lack of integration with education ministries.

It is teachers who will support students with mobile learning interventions and help safeguard success. They need a central role in truly multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Build local capacity

Clearly, more investment in teacher training is needed within — and beyond — mobile learning programmes. Research has shown the crucial role teachers play in designing, developing and implementing education technologies.

Three things need to happen to support a more central role for teachers: reconfiguration of mobile learning projects, an increased use of participatory methodologies and less techno-centrism.

Reconfiguration requires a level of self-reflection. We know that many mobile learning projects are funded by sizeable donations made under corporate social responsibility budgets.

This often means a central role is played by the non-expert funder, not the teacher. If corporate funders stepped back, teachers would have more space to take on the more central role required.

However, this enhanced role cannot be supported without appropriate methodologies. Participatory approaches in development go back at least to the early 1970s and are still used in various ways — including giving a voice to marginalized people in the debate over the post-2015 developmental goals.

There is a vibrant Human-Computer Interaction for Development community that promotes user-centered approaches to technology design, use and evaluation. In my own work over the years, including in a current project for training community health workers in Kenya, we extensively use participatory approaches to help design and develop mobile learning interventions.

The idea that techno-centrism or even solely content-based solutions can address important educational challenges by themselves must be dropped. Research shows they can’t. [5]

The path to success is clear: the risks of increasing the marginalization of teachers — and by extension students — can only be ameliorated by understanding teachers’ practice, co-designing interventions with them and providing them with training.

Projects which work with existing educational systems, not against them, should have priority funding. Only then can mobile learning be seen to work for teachers, for their students and for the alleviation of poverty among those at the margins of society.

Niall Winters is a reader in learning technologies at the London Knowledge Lab at the University of London, United Kingdom. He can be reached at

Mobile Learning in Africa References

[1] UN Conference on Trade and Development Information Economy Report 2010: ICTs, Enterprises and Poverty Alleviation (UN, 2010)
[2] Clinton, B. The Case for Optimism (Time Magazine, 1 October 2012)
[3] Mitra, S. Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud (TED, video posted February 2013)
[4] International Journal of Educational Development doi: 10.1016/j.ijedudev.2012.01.003 (2012)
[5] Winters, N. Why mobile learning on its own won’t solve the access problem (LIDC blog, 13 November 2012)


50 BILLION PROFIT Off Of Students

monopoly-manCollege Debt Crisis

“…the most profitable in the country”

I’ve written extensively about the high-cost of a 4-year college and whether high school educators are doing a DISservice to students in pushing them to a 4-year college– at any cost.

It’s NOT like it was in the old days when students could go to school and work a job to pay tuition. Tuition escalation is just too great to overcome. With the high rate of college graduate unemployment, and even higher UNDER-employment rates, an “educated” and rational person really has to wonder if the cost is worth the return and investigate other options.

Today’s USA Today article: Government projects to make $50B in student loan profit, highlights one of the problems as the United States government stands to PROFIT MORE than ExxonMobil, Apple, J.P. Morgan, or Fannie Mae.

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections, the federal government projects a record $50-billion profit on student loans this year. ExxonMobil made $44.9 billion in 2012, according to published reports, making it the most profitable company in the country. And if Congress doesn’t stop rates on some loans from doubling on July 1, that profit will rise more, up to an additional $21 billion, a recent report found. However, there are those who claim the projections don’t accurately reflect risk taken by the government and the profits are much smaller.

College Debt vs Student Loan Profits

IF a college-educated populace is a good thing for our society, nation, and humankind in general, why are the barriers so great?

The record-high profits on student loans come during a time of historically low interest rates on home mortgages and car loans. While a home buyer can get a 30-year mortgage at about 4.5% interest, the federal government is charging as much as 6.8% interest on unsubsidized student loans and is less than a month away from automatically doubling the interest rate on the loans headed to poor students unless Congress takes action.

“Because the government has almost ensured anyone who applies will get the loan they need, schools have been able to drive prices up with no concern as to where funding will come from,” Whaley said. “With prices skyrocketing, students are taking on way more debt than they can handle but have no other option to compete in the modern economy.”

Read the rest of the article here and please provide your views on college and how to battle rising costs in the comment section.


My other blog posts on College Debt.


Is Education is Useless

A simple search of the terms Education is Useless, pulls-up over 74 MILLION returns, making the topic one for investigation.

Here are a couple that should give one pause to reflect… sure to read to the end.

calvin-mackieCalvin Mackie

As a mechanical engineer with a Ph.D., a motivational STEM speaker and a former college professor, you’d probably be surprised to hear that I think education is useless.

In America, the education system has moved away from developing citizens to serve their fellow man to the unadulterated pursuit of standardized success at any cost. Mixed in with a sea of social change and celebrity obsession, somehow we’ve all lost sight of the goal of education: creating passionate students who are employable, teachable and adaptable in a dynamic world. Students are turned off for a number of reasons right now.

To get back on track, we must recognize that education is useless if students aren’t thirsty for it!

I’ll always remember this lesson that my grandma and grandpa taught me when I was a young kid. I was trying to force a pig to eat the slop I had prepared for him, when my uneducated but wise grandmother stated the truism, “Baby, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!”

Much like the pig, today’s students don’t want the education we have prepared. They either aren’t hungry or they’ve gotten their fill from somewhere else. In response to my grandma, my grandpa yelled back, “Yeah, you can’t make him drink, but you sure can get him thirsty!”

We can bring students their education and put it on a silver platter right in front of them, but if they don’t want it, they’re not going to eat it. How can we make our students crave it? How can we get them motivated and passionate about learning again? The key is to get back to basics and remember what education is really about.

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