Mobile phones for Education in India’s Low-Cost Schools

© 2015 Photo copyright, Tony Hughes, All rights reserved. Children at Ramana’s Childrens School, Rishikesh, India

This is a guest post written by Kim Campbell, Benjamin Mayer, and Hila Mehr, the authors of the report Education Technology in India: Designing Ed-Tech for Affordable Private Schools. Follow their blog and reach the authors at Ed-Tech India. This post has also been published on the GSMA website

At the end of 2012, India overtook the United States and the United Kingdom to become the second largest mobile phone market in the world after China. How are mobile phones used in India and what does this mean for opportunities for mobile education?

In our report, Education Technology in India: Designing Ed-Tech for Affordable Private Schools, we explored stakeholder access to and use of technology in India’s low-income Affordable Private School (APS) market. Our research revealed some interesting facts about student and parent mobile phone usage, as well as opportunities to design better mobile education platforms.

In field surveys with 450 students across 13 schools in Hyderabad, India, we looked at 14-year-old student access to and use of technology, including mobile phones. One of the largest trends we found in our survey was the divide in access to technology between male and female students. We found that while 41% of males are cell phone users, only 35% females are. More strikingly, we found that only 15% of females access Internet via mobile phones, compared to 45% of males. Of note, few students own cell phones, and the majority use their parent or a relative’s phone.

We also found that 37% of APS students play games on mobile phones, 29% listen to music, 13% make phone calls, 15% send and receive text messages, and 6% view videos. This revealed that the majority of these students prefer using phones for entertainment, as only 28% of the children opt to use phones for communication purposes.
Based on our research, we found three major opportunities for mobile learning design for India’s low-income communities.

Mimic Students’ Natural Technology Consumption: Students with access to technology prefer to use it for entertainment, so their interest in games, music, and movies should be utilized to design more entertaining learning options on mobile phones. Students will likely retain interest if the product mimics the way they opt to consume technology.

Teach English on Phones: English is considered a pre-requisite for most successful careers in India. Given the level of penetration that mobile phones have in India, they could easily become an education platform for highly desired English language skills. This would be especially popular for low-income communities, where spoken English education is a high-priority for families.

Design for Existing Phones: Past ed-tech interventions have provided mobile phones to students for use. The more sustainable option is to build applications that can work on both low-end and smartphones for students across income brackets to use in the classroom and at home. The content should be entertaining while educational, and should ideally be based on the schools’ curriculum—an important factor for a school owner selecting any ed-tech product. Application design should also consider that student access to Internet on mobile phones, and in general, is still limited.

Most importantly, mobile learning should be designed around user access and needs. Whether an ed-tech intervention is phone, tablet, or computer-based, it must take into account the school environment and the roles, influences, and values of all the players of the school ecosystem. Building solutions that adequately accommodate each stakeholder’s needs is crucial to the success of any education technology product that enters the market.

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