By Ryan P. Casey
“Okay, class; everybody please take out your phones!”
As unlikely as it may seem that a teacher today would say this in the classroom, it may soon become a common classroom command. New York-based education company McGraw-Hill recently announced its initiation into the mobile education industry with mConnect, a mobile learning platform designed to make education affordable and accessible for students in rural, low-income areas. They are partnering with Wipro, a Bangalore-based information technology company, to launch the product in India, where there is a low-income work force hungry for opportunities for higher education. The program will deliver to poor and underserved students personalized English instruction via cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices.
“High-quality education is fundamental to the growth of a nation,” said Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro, Ltd. “The goal is to use mConnect as a way to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and reach of education across the globe.”
There are currently 700 million cell phones in India, and 100 million of them are used by youth for approximately five and a half hours per day. According to mobileyouth.org, it is estimated that by 2012, this youth population will constitute one fifth of worldwide mobile phone usage.
While personal electronic devices are forbidden in many classrooms, and sites like Facebook blocked from some public school computers, it may not be long before teachers are asking students to take out their cell phones for an assignment rather than put them away. mConnect is not the first learning tool of its kind to target underdeveloped nations. ‘text2teach’ is a pilot program popular in Latin America and the Phillipines that allows teachers to send requests via text message for educational materials, which are then delivered to their schools’ televisions by satellite. Other pilot projects are emerging in places as diverse as Thailand, Bangladesh and Mongolia. These programs allow students to learn anywhere at any time, with customized instruction and feedback that create a more engaging and interactive experience.
“[We] have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver high-quality, low-cost education to students and workers … with limited access to resources,” said Harold McGraw III, chairman, president and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies. “The success of our pilots in India will serve as a powerful example of how business, schools and governments around the world can harness the power of mobile learning to give more people the skills to succeed in the global Knowledge Economy.”