Tag Archive: Innovative use of ICTs


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.

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As covered by our previous postings of the Hole in Wall project which started of as a curious experiment and continued as a chain of experiments across rural india has finally crossed its boundaries and reached schools in UK and italy and is all poised to challenge all kinds of barriers like language, culture, age to education. Dr. Sugata Mitra Speaks at TED.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Engineers


Innovation and Entrepreneurship seem like alien words in the world of College of E&ME, where walking on the layed out (SOP certified) line is “siraat-e-mustakeem”. The lack of appreciation for different personalities and their ideas, coupled with the sole benchmarking based on GPA has turned it into a stagnant system. The immediate and evident consequences of this being that the top notch students of nation coming to this college are provided with a mindset (by default) to seek jobs. Starting a new business or a venture is out of their books! Or at least a lowest grade back up. Students would even prefer low income research jobs (even though they don’t have research aptitude). A brief study of stats shows that it was not until the recession hit market cut down vacancies, that the students started thinking of doing something of their own, otherwise doing own business is out of question. Not that the students aren’t capable enough or worst non-innovative, it’s the general mindset of society, educational institute and the family that first goal set for fresh grads is to find some “cool” job – which necessarily entails some famous multinational or a permanent government job.

Breaking this ice of stagnation, Society of ICTs arranged a lecture on “Innovation and Entrepreneurship for engineers”. The guest speaker was the well-known, Mr. Adnan Shahid (president EME Alumni Association, De 14EE Graduate, Director post paid solutions at Mobilink and an MBA from MIT). The speaker had a solid IT background polished by the studies at MIT. He has been lately talking to the college administration to promote new ideas and concepts in a bit to foster entrepreneurial ventures by EMEnets. These are the earliest attempts of shifting the excessive academic focus of the college administration though. It might take much time to develop an atmosphere conducive to innovative minds to break the conventions and take up new challenges – eventually to get spin out companies formed by college graduates.

Though the lecture was held at a very short notice, the simplistic yet inspirational speaking skills of the guest kept the audience alive, interested and at the same time calling their pals to come to ECR (through SMS). Sir Adnan presented several examples of small ideas which later on changed the technology or the lives of people. Through the brilliant examples and news report clippings (from Pakistani newspapers) he explained the terms Innovation and invention as well as their link. He presented several case studies to students e.g. Facebook, his target of research, and presented his analysis of the marketing techniques Facebook guys implemented to make it such a huge success. Mr. Adnan challenged the students to come up with ideas along with their business proposals and start their own ventures. He presented the examples of content development (applications, wallpapers, ringtones etc.) for Mobilink itself. The students look forward to more of such lectures by alumni to guide them and inspire them J Society of ICTs will be working with the Alumni Liaison Committee to hold more of such lectures. Next semester a series of lectures on software development are also planned with the alumni owning software houses.


Hole in the wall started of as an interesting experiment by a computer scientist, Dr. Sugata Mitra (head of research and development at the National Institute for Information Technology Limited (NIIT)), in which he installed a high tech computer on his office wall facing a slum and left it for the children to explore it. Astonishingly children learnt surfing in a single day!

In 1999 the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank subsidiary, invested $1.6 million in a project entitled ‘Hole in the Wall’, in which computer kiosks were placed in urban slums so that street children with almost no education could gain access to computer technology. They found that the children would teach each other how to use these computers. The project encourages underprivileged children in India to learn from a web-based curriculum through Internet kiosks. The kiosks were installed in over 60 locations over three years (2000-2003). The aim was to improve education for poor children, with equal access for girls and boys..

NIIT went on to conduct further studies to determine if illiterate slum children could use the Internet without instruction. The ICT-education firm set up continuous video tape monitoring of the computer that they had set up. The video showed that young boys and girls from the settlement became highly proficient at using various features of the computer regardless of lack of proficiency in English, and without any instruction. Soon it became “an extension of their playground, where they can play together, teach each other new things, and more importantly, just be themselves”

Already ubiquitous in New Delhi and Mysore, the Hole-in-the-wall systems were then spread throughout the country including the underserved areas of Rajhastan and Jaipur and the difficult terrains of Kashmir. The Hole in the wall education limited (HIWEL) has now expanded and reached upto the northern states of Mizoram and Nagaland. Such is the popularity of the project that it has crossed the borders and become a part of the commonwealth connects program in Uganda and now (according to recent news) making its way for being piloted in UK.

HIWEL has been conferred the coveted ‘Digital Opportunity Award’ for its path breaking work in spreading computer literacy and improving the quality of education at the grass root levels, by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA).

Dr. Sugata in his talk at LIFT 2007 explains the impacts and results of his hole in the wall experiments, while a candid review of hole in the wall is presented in an article in readers’ digest. Another video report by The Guardian shows the children exploring the computers and having fun in learning.

Nokia Innovation Contest


Finally the details of the NOKIA Innovation contest as prophesized in our previous post are out. The contest details are available at the Official Site. The targeted contest for Pakistani Developers are here. The contest focuses on development of mobile applications.

Access all details regarding the contest here. read more

Innovation for combating literacy, INDIA


One of the outstanding potential of ICTs is their ability to bridge the divides in a much rapid and emphatic manner as compared to several traditional techniques e.g. for literacy reduction the traditional teaching methods are pretty time consuming and resource intensive whereas ICTs exploit the multimedia and similar aids for reducing the human learning cycle. As a case study few innovative steps taken by NGOs, multinationals and social entrepreneurs of India are presented.

Khabar Lahariya is a weekly Bundeli language newspaper, written, edited, illustrated, produced and marketed entirely by women in the rural Chritrakoot and Banda districts of Uttar Pradesh… The paper has a print run of around 4000 copies, and a readership of over 25,000. It is sold for Rs. 2 a copy in over 400 villages in both districts.’ The newspaper is playing commendable role in domain of female literacy. ‘Waves in hinterland‘ by farah naqvi covers the story of this newspaper in detail. The initiative won UNESCO’s literacy award in 2009

Nonprofit, Planet Read, has adopted an innovative approach to combating illiteracy: Using ‘same language subtitles’ on film songs as a way to teach viewers how to read (capitalizing the Indian public’s craze for Bollywood). Conceived in 1996 at IIM Ahmadabad, SLS program reaches about 200 million plus viewers across 8 different song programs in 8 different languages. The program has a great potential for replication in similar societies and thereby has been commended at Clinton Global Initiative.

Recent publication by UNESCO “Education for All – Global monitoring report 2011” (accessible here p71 ) states that

PlanetRead, provides same-language subtitling for film songs broadcast on television, potentially reaching  hundreds of millions. A randomized evaluation covering 13,000 people from 2002 to 2007 showed a considerable impact. Among children enrolled in school, 56% of those who had watched the subtitled show at least thirty minutes a week for five years had become fluent readers, as opposed to 24% of those who had not watched it. Among illiterate adults, 12% of those watching the show became fluent readers, as opposed to 3% of those not watching it (Kothari, 2008).

Apart from local NGOs other organizations like UNESCO have also come up with simplistic projects which are contributing towards the literacy in rural areas such as Tamil Nadu. Whereas projects like Akshaya, implemented in Kerala, has extended the concept of literacy to 100% e-literacy.

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