Learning with mobile devices

A comparison of four mobile learning pilots in Africa

For the past few years, I have been involved in several projects aimed at delivering education via mobile devices. These include providing local language (for many African languages) children’s reading books to Worldreader for distribution on feature phones, developing a bilingual maths dictionary Android app for isiXhosa learners, and supporting the Gauteng Education Department’s Paperless Classroom digital rollout by providing textbooks on tablets via the Snapplify e-reader. These projects all involved repurposing existing print material for use on a mobile device, so I was very interested in reading Shafika Isaacs, Nicky Roberts and Garth Spencer-Smith’s recent paper (in the South African Journal of Education) where they compared four mobile learning projects across Africa.

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Are South African schools ready for the 4th Industrial Revolution?

As a developing country still dependant on labour-intensive industries such as mining and agriculture, South Africa is at a risk of not optimally taking advantage of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the rapid advancement of new technologies that is building on the developments of the third industrial revolution (the advent of electronics and automated production). According to Klaus Schwab, the Founder and executive chairman of the WEF, the fourth industrial revolution ‘is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’.

The increasing intersection between physical and digital technologies is changing the world of work in several key ways. As Schwab says, ‘physical products and services … can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value’. Today’s worker needs to understand how digital and physical components can combine to create faster, more efficient and effective products and hybrid solutions.

In education, the challenge is to equip learners in South Africa to function effectively in the 21st Century, and use technology to innovate, collaborate and create.

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Digital education in South Africa

What’s going on in schools?

Despite much talk from government about the needs to ready learners for the the 21st Century workplace, when it comes to state-funded schools, the South African reality is one characterised by a lack of access to technical support, unreliable internet connectivity, security concerns and limited funding for teacher training which has been slowing down the broader uptake of digital education. Despite these infrastructural issues, there is a growing interest in digital education in South Africa, often spearheaded by politicians eager to make electoral gains. On the ground, these issues are being tackled by a combination of government initiatives supported by tech companies – such as Samsung, Intel and Microsoft –  and NGO-led interventions. This often results in a haphazard implementation of digital education and a proliferation of pilot projects. 

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