Smartphone, a good ally for education: The example of Kenya

Photo: FaceMePLS

The development of a country can also be measured by how much support is given to more vulnerable groups in society to help them lead a normal life. The design and deployment of such support is in many cases easier said than done, because government budgets are always limited and the voices of those groups usually are not very loud and therefore likely to be overheard.

But fortunately, and despite these difficulties, technology has helped reduce the gap people in these difficult situations have to overcome in order to access to resources that help them get prepared for professional life. One of these resources is distance education, which in its beginnings used postal services as its primary transmitter. Later, images via satellite came up, then the internet and the most recent novelty is the use of cell phones or smartphones.

We have to remember that distance education in its diverse modalities is a common practice in many countries and one which has received a lot of support by private investors, governments and international organizations like the World Bank.

In this context, if there is one vulnerable social group that needs support with their education, it would be young and/or single mothers, especially those living in countries with high rates of marginalization and where intolerant reactions to anything occurring outside the social norms are frequent.

The Example of Kenya

As mentioned earlier, the new thing in remote education is the use of cellphones and/or smartphones for the transmission of knowledge. In Kenya these devices are already used for educating young mothers. It is true that their use is still limited but the experience from this african country may motivate other countries to implement it as well.

A few mobile platforms in Kenya have been very successful and they are attracting tremendous number of users, like Eneza and eLimu. Eneza is a platform for students which helps with the distribution of knowledge via basic cell phones. In order to start using the service, there are a number of steps to follow, the first of which being registration, which works by sending an SMS to a special number. After that you have to choose the subject you want to study in order to access all information, exams and evaluations. The platform also makes it possible to interact with the teacher.

eLimu, on the other hand, is a mobile platform with educational content designed for using it on a tablet. The platform uses texts, videos, diagrams, songs and exams that are aligned with an educational program to teach everything the students need to know for their degree. The eLimu tablet intentionally has no web-browser in order to minimize the possibilities of using it inadequately.

Smartphone, a good ally for education: The example of Kenya

Photo: eLimu

Another mobile platform for education with an important presence in Africa and the Middle East is the one from the organization g.Maarifa, which also uses SMS to distribute educational content. There are multiple platforms like that not only in Africa but in Latin America as well and even in the developed countries.

Big publishing houses for physical text books have also created similar platforms, which have more content and a more complex design, simply because these companies have the resources for it. An example of this is the spanish publishing house Santillana and its Sistema Uno. In addition, Apple and Google have taken their commercial battle to the educational field with their iPads and Chromebooks. The reasons for all these companies may be diverse, but they are all aware of the fact that today’s students will be tomorrow’s consumers.

Tremendous Challenges Remain

According to, Ronda Zelezny-Green, an expert on the subject, one of the challenges of learning with mobile platforms is the cost associated with the acquisition and maintenance of these devices. Remember that in many developing countries (like Kenya) the incomes of the citizens are too low to afford such a device. And unless its prices decrease significantly over time, they will need government help. And that help is always associated with the risk of not arriving as it should due to the existing corruption in many of these countries.

And another challenge, adds Zelezny-Green (@GLam_Leo), has to do with the possible inappropriate use of the cell phones or smartphones (a big temptation for children, teenagers and even adults), as well as the difficulty to read on devices with small screens. But as the global development expert points out, these are obstacles that can be eliminated, if certain mechanism are applied, making the benefits outrun the disadvantages.

Cell phones and smartphones have changed the way human beings relate to each other. We are primarily using them for our spare time, our work or our family. It is about time we start using them as educational tools as well. Because of that, it would be a good idea for national governments and international organizations to invest and promote this field even more.

The mSchools programme is a multi-year, multi-faceted mEducation initiative by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona. The mSchools programme is designed to lower dropout rates, improve student attainment in schools across Catalonia and throughout Spain and, ultimately, to better prepare students as they pursue further education and employment in today’s digital world.

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