By Richard McMunn – AfricanBrains
Although still in its infancy, Africa is experiencing exciting technological advances thanks to a boom in mobile phone use of the past decade and the growing availability of the Smart Phone, with its advanced features and opportunities.
In many parts of Africa, the use of mobile phones is higher than computers, allowing for growth in the nations educational avenues. It has been well documented that over the past few years Africa has struggled with low levels of educational opportunities and access, a shortage of teaching staff, low level literacy and numeracy.
The answer for many lies in the opportunities that new Smart Phone technology can offer in the field of education. Computing in the average African schools consists of a small computer lab, but thanks to rapid growth in mobile phone technology, the possibility of distance learning is closer than ever before.
The smart phone could provide the answer to educating those in remote areas, as tested by the University of Pretoria. Research carried out by the university indicated that 96% of the distance education students had access to mobile phones, while only 1% had access to the internet at home.
In the Western world our mobile phones have become handheld computers. But in Africa, where many of the population have poor electric supplies and affordability issues, the mobile phone companies and developers have ensured that mobile phones are the primary source of communication. It has the ability to do things such as mobile banking. There are 84m internet-enabled mobiles in Africa and it is predicted that 69% of mobiles in Africa will have internet access by the year 2014.
Social networking such as Facebook in Africa is on the up and in turn, debate and interactive learning is transforming the education system. People, young and old, on the continent can access knowledge on their mobile phone devices.
Mobile learning on Smart Phones differs from e-learning on computers in that activities are not set in one place and can be conducted at any time and at any place.
Examples of this mobile education are in farming and their livelihoods. A number of smartphones have been leased to farmers so that they can receive information, such as market prices, weather reports and advice and pass this information on to others.
Also,a project in Zanzibar and Tanzania, called the Wireless Mothers project, uses mobile technology to provide information to mothers regarding childbirth and the prevention of child mortality.
There are barriers to mobile learning in Africa, such as illiteracy levels, access issues (remote areas and price factors) and a gender gap (more men have mobile phones than women). However, thanks to the availability of solar power and mobiles running on much less power than computers, education through mobile phones is becoming a great possibility to help those formerly excluded from educational opportunities.
Smart phone technology offers advanced systems such as interactive voice response (IVR) and barriers are breaking down, with mobile phone usage becoming more affordable.
Africa Initiatives is a Microsoft project focusing on Africa with the release of ‘Huawei 4Afrika’ Windows 8 smartphone and the creation of the ‘Afrika Academy’ to teach Africans important business and entrepreneurial skills.
If Smart Phone technology is developed in a robust, low cost manner, more and more Africans will continue to take advantage of this information technology and new and exciting learning styles available to them.