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Literacy and Mobile Technologies

7 September 2018

Since 1967, the United Nations, its Member States and partners celebrate International Literacy Day on 8 September. Despite advancements in the global literacy agenda, much remains to be done: 750 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills.

Advancing Mobile Literacy Learning (AMLL), a UNESCO project in partnership with the Microsoft Corporation, is one of the many initiatives that the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has implemented to tackle literacy challenges around the world. The project, now entering its final phase, has explored the use of mobile technologies for advancing literacy in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt and Mexico.

The contribution of information and communication technology (ICT) to the achievement of youth and adult literacy – under the notion of ‘learning anywhere, anytime’ – has gained considerable attention. ICT skills also contribute to employability and facilitate active participation in society. Through the AMLL project, learning strategies use digital solutions to support non-formal literacy curricular practices in the four project countries. Youth and adults, and in particular women, have started to acquire literacy and ICT skills in ways that enhance their livelihoods and further learning opportunities.

UIL, in collaboration with UNESCO Field Offices and their national partners, have designed and implemented unique strategies appropriate to the socio-economic and cultural contexts of the project communities.

In Bangladesh, literacy lessons supported by mobile devices and audio-visual and text-related software are contributing to improve women’s livelihood skills for income-generating activities in rural community learning centres in the district of Rangpur.

‘We use different materials to learn. Before, our teacher taught by using only books. [Now] they teach us by writing in excursive khata [local dialect], and we are now learning a lot by using tablets, small memory cards and laptops. There are many benefits when using these ICT devices.’ (AMLL learner in Bangladesh)

In Egypt, women in the Giza Governorate are benefitting from literacy learning via lessons implemented in diverse community centres using the curriculum Al Mar’ah Wal Hayah, which means ‘woman and life’. This curriculum contributes to enhance literacy in the context of life skills related to health, community participation, communication, and empowerment for women and girls. A literacy and numeracy digital learning application has been developed to support this curriculum.

I want to teach my kids how to access the internet and get words and ideas that are useful for them, and also to access lessons (...) to improve and be better at what they do.’ (AMLL learner in Egypt)

In Ethiopia, community learning centres are linked and supported by public primary schools in rural areas in Oromia, Amhara and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR). The project has focused on using mobile devices and audio-visual technology to deliver lessons developed in three languages to enhance adult learners’ skills in relation to health, agriculture, basic technology, civics and income-generating activities. 

In Mexico, young and adult learners in disadvantaged urban communities in the State of Puebla have been the key target. Digital literacy materials were created, collected and uploaded on mobile devices to support learners’ transition across basic literacy modules of the National Institute for Adults Education curriculum Modelo Educacion para la Vida y el Trabajo (MEVyT) (Educational Model for Life and Work).

I wanted to learn how to read and write in order to be independent, to be able to depend on myself. For a living, I cook and sell meals. I have now been able to design the advertisement for this using the computer and it is now online. I have a webpage with my menus and I can also keep account of the payments of my clients.’ (AMLL learner in Mexico)

Across all of the projects, facilitators demonstrated the key role that they can play in quality learning and in developing the well-being of learners in their communities when their own capacity to teach and to actively participate in their communities is enhanced.  

I was just a homemaker before joining this mobile literacy project… as a human being I only had household activities to do. But after joining this project, I received training and acquired skills for life. This has also helped to improve the lives of my learners here.’ (AMLL facilitator in Bangladesh)

Designing learning strategies that integrate the use of mobile and digital technologies has great potential for the advancement of literacy in disadvantaged communities. Yet successful implementation requires consideration of several key factors, such as:

  • tailoring learning around learners’ needs in the context of their communities,
  • using consistent literacy assessment mechanisms at beginning and end of project interventions to monitor the impact of learning,
  • developing the capacity of community educators to use digital technology as a pedagogical support in current teaching and learning practices.

Other projects and materials in the area of literacy include UNESCO’s Effective Literacy and Numeracy Practices Database (LitBase); UIL’s recently published Learning Together Across Generations: Guidelines for Family Literacy and Learning Programmes; and an action research project to measure literacy learning outcomes in selected African countries, known as RAMAA.

In addition, UIL has just launched a series of talks on education at its Institute in Hamburg, Germany. Titled Hamburg Education Talks, the first one has been organized in the context of literacy day on 6 September on the topic ‘Illiteracy in Hamburg – Does it really exist?’.