Tag Archive: ICTs in Pakistan


Improving female literacy through ICTs in Pakistan


We have also covered the issue of improvements in literacy in third world countries on our blog. We have discussed a few literacy projects by Google, TATA (India & Africa), Planet Read’s (India – “Same Language Sub-titling project“), Tastan (Senegal – Jokko Initiative).

A current report titled “Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity” discussing the mobile phone gender gap in low and middle-income countries has presented some insight into the advantages of bridging the mentioned gap. The report suggests that:

Mobile phone ownership in low and middle-income countries has skyrocketed in the past several years. But a woman is still 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. This figure increases to 23% if she lives in in Africa, 24% if she lives in the Middle East, and 37% if she lives in South Asia.

One of the important impacts of ICTs is on literacy and we will be covering a case from Pakistan about SMS for literacy project by Bunyad Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO and Mobilink (Pakistan telco).

A brief description about Bunyad’s projects by Pakistan Herald is reproduced here:

The schools established under the project were known as ILM NFPE centres and were supported by UNICEF starting with literacy and education in one district Bunyad has gradually expanded both in geographical areas of operation as well as the field of its activities. It is presently active in 18 districts of the province of Punjab and particularly in more than 2000 villages and its programs, in addition to literacy and non-formal education, include projects in such diverse fields as child labour, women empowerment for poverty alleviation, saving and micro credit community development, integrated farming and sanitation, health, reproductive health and environment. Bunyad has been working in approximately 5000 villages in 500 Union councils on various projects in Pakistan.

Bunyad’s work won it international recognition through UNESCO’s awards in contribution to literacy and education. The organization’s president was also awarded Aizaz-e-Fazeelat (Civil award) from president of Pakistan.

Pakistani mobile operator Mobilink, a subsidiary of Orascom, has learned a great deal about attitudes regarding women and mobile phones, especially as penetration rates soared in Pakistan over the last several years. In addition to creating a product tailored specifically for the women’s market several years ago, Mobilink has sought to demonstrate the power of mobile phones to improve literacy rates for adolescent girls in rural areas of Pakistan where reading materials are often scarce. Yet there is often resistance to girls’ having the independence that mobile phones symbolise.

For four months in 2009, Mobilink partnered with UNESCO and a local nongovernmental organisation (NGO), Bunyad, on a pilot project in a rural area of southern Punjab province involving 250 females aged 15-24 who had recently completed a basic literacy programme. Each of the girls was provided with a low-cost mobile phone and prepaid connection. Teachers were trained by Bunyad to teach students how to read and write using mobile phones. The company set up a system for the NGO to send out SMS messages in an effort to maintain and improve participants’ literacy, which often lapses because of inadequate access to interesting reading material. Crucially, the low-cost phones were enabled to send and receive messages in Urdu, the local language, rather than in English. The girls received up to six messages a day on a variety of topics including religion, health and nutrition, and were expected to practise
reading and writing down the messages and responding to their teachers via SMS. Monthly assessments of participants learning gains were conducted to assess impact.

Programme organisers encountered considerable resistance on the part of  parents and community leaders to the idea of allowing girls to have mobile phones, largely due to the conservative social norms of the area. This resistance began to soften, however, once people began to see the nature of the messages the girls were receiving and the benefits the programme conferred. Exams taken by the girls participating in the programme showed striking early gains in literacy, with the share of girls receiving the lowest scores dropping nearly 80%.

Participants and their families are even taking advantage of other features of the phones, including the calculator. While 56% of learners and their families initially maintained negative feelings toward the programme, 87% were satisfied with its results by the end. Families also appreciated the greater sense of security that being able to contact their daughters or wives provided. Users can pay US$6 to buy their phones at the end of the programme and continue receiving text messages, and Mobilink, UNESCO and Bunyad plan to expand the programme further.
The success of this programme demonstrates how mobile phones can be used to increase the reach and effectiveness of basic education programmes. It also illustrates the fact that  suspicion of mobile phones can be overcome by showing parents and leaders how mobiles
can be used to transmit culturally sensitive information whilst increasing girls’ sense of security.

As reported by business recorder, Mobilink has planned to extend this pilot project further.

Uptil now, SMS have been perceived as a threat by academics and the discussion had always been centered around how to curb this nuisance during classrooms, as duly noticed by Micheal Trucano on his blog at World Bank.  However m-learning initiatives are changing the landscapes of education. Trucano also referred to another interesting m-learning project from Pakistan. He notes that:

In Pakistan, some innovative folks are exploring how basic text messaging (SMS) can be used in the education sector to the benefit of people with even very low end mobile phones, leveraging the increasing high teledensities found in communities across the country.

Thinkchange Pakistan notes that:

The Asghar Mall College pilot project where 150 students who had their mobile phone numbers on file began participating in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men from middle to lower middle class backgrounds were sent simple multiple-choice questions.  Texts were addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a ’mail merge’ function. The students would reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response based on their answer.  In this response, a notation was made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and then the correct answer was incorporated into a sample sentence.

Based on the results of the pilot, the Provincial Education Department of the Government of the Punjab is showing interest in exploring these activities further. The project principals have already started thinking about expanding the scope of their activities. For example they are currently toying with the idea of sending text messages to parents to encourage further parent involvement in the student’s academics.

Another similar concept of m-learning is being implemented in Niger and is worth visiting.

Let’s do the MTC!


A tale of five ambitious girls

Sidra, Amber, Tehreem, Hafsah and Zainab Sukhera are the ambitious girls studying in APS Quetta who, after completion of their metric exams, got a brilliant idea to use their time, ambition and intellect to use by making a difference in the society. They thought of making donations in SOS village but since there were summer vacations they couldn’t do much. They didn’t have a hefty saving of pocket money, nor were they inspired by teachers towards social work. Still they had a simple idea of establishing a Mini Tuition Club (MTC). The idea seems pretty old and banal, yet there it provides us with a food for thought! MTC is a remarkable example of the penetration power of media and advertisements. Telenor’s Karo Mumkin project with its simple yet emphatic advertisements aired on all TV channels relating to some (hypothetical) Baluchistan university making it compulsory for students to teach other students as a degree requirement to change Pakistan, might seem like a cliché’ at first (even I thought of it as a cliché’ till I got to see its impact through MTC), yet it does stimulate the thoughts of our youth to direct their energies towards bringing a change. Another example of a similar project is the “Kal ke liye aaj badlo” by Mobilink with their inspirational advertisement.

Getting back to our story of MTC, it’s not a matter of debate if these ambitious students got their inspiration from these advertisements or not, the only thing that matters is the inspiration from these advertisements coupled with their ambition led them to set up a simple tuition club. MTC was setup in C.M.H. Quetta (Baluchistan), utilizing the existing resources. The target students were those female students of mediocre families who aren’t that fortunate enough to get good teachers (as their schools aren’t that great). Since it was summer vacations, 11 students signed up for the club, due to transportation problems. The unique aspect of the club was the level of effort that was put into preparation of the lectures by the teachers (metric students).

 The teachers belong to the era of technology, it is the generation that has actually been using technology for getting education out of it, and they prepared the lectures through all sorts of online tutorials and didn’t resort to the text bookish lectures. They copied the elaborate diagrams on paper from their Google search results and gave the hand outs to the students. The administration of the hospital also provided the students with some computers to utilize them for learning. Using ICTs to improve the teaching methods (even in an indirect manner) is a success story of the technology. The students were mostly from urdu medium schools and therefore they couldn’t really get hold of the superb lectures on various science topics at online resources like Khan Academy. No worries, our crafty teachers were smart! They themselves listened to the online lectures and then compiled their handouts and lectures in accordance with it, translated into urdu, for easy comprehension of the students. The teachers also consulted various text books of O levels to use the illustrious pictures in those books for explanation, not to mention the detailed descriptions in theses better compiled books.

What these ambitious students did might not be truly ‘innovative venture’; however, they did make us realize that there are no barriers to people who want to make a change. They can bridge the digital divide by serving as a link between technology and the non computer literate student to bring the immense educational content, available online, to use.

What did these students have? They had an encouragement from their parents, knowledge of ICTs through the generation above them (brothers and sisters), an ambition to bring a change and an inspiration from TV Ads which presented to them the bigger dimension of small steps towards bringing a change and to make dreams a reality. These students have also given us a clear message that the ideas projected in TV advertisements aren’t a farfetched dream but in fact quite practical if implemented at grass root levels. They have a simple question to all readers…. “its summer vacations… Why don’t you too do the MTC”?

Author’s note: This simplistic idea is very replicable and workable. We can all really join hands to bring many new and interesting things to complement it. To teach the computer literacy the young students can be put onto the typing tutor, which will give them a leap start into the world of ICTs. It will prevent them from jumping into computer games (that might actually backfire and create problems for their parents if they insist on buying computers for themselves, which parents can’t afford). Competitions of typing can be held in students too! Next step can be to provide them with encyclopedias like Britannica etc on CDs for learning. Students of higher grade can be provided access to internet to learn and explore Wikipedia and other educational content in supervision. Every institute has some old PCs like Pentium 2 or 3s which can be given to the children for experimentation. Let us equip and teach our children to use ICTs to their learning and education.

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