UN agency to use mobile phone technology to boost literacy in Nigeria


UNITED NATIONS, April 30 — The United Nations educational agency on Tuesday said it is ready to launch a pilot project combining mobile technology and teachers’development to support primary school English teachers in Nigeria, which has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world.

In a statement issued in Paris, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said “English Teacher” is one of the first attempts to employ mobile technology to improve tools for primary school teachers, UN officials said here.

“Our aim from the beginning was to develop a service that teachers working in difficult conditions and without a great deal of support could access quickly,” said Steven Vosloo, the project coordinator for UNESCO. “Mobile technology is a promising avenue and, in some instances, the only option in terms of technology.”

Available to anyone in Nigeria, where nearly all the population is said to be connected to a mobile network, the service sends teachers educational content and messages with pedagogical advice once a day. UNESCO said the system could reach tens of thousands of teachers across the country.

The project runs 72 weeks from the time the subscriber enlists in the free membership, and content is divided into one or two week periods with links to outside resources, said the officials.

Organized in partnership with the conglomerate Nokia and supported by the British Council and the National Teachers’ Institute of Nigeria, the project will be introduced to teachers from almost 50 different schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Nigeria on May 2-3.

“We’re in Nigeria because this is where we are most urgently needed. While it would be nice to offer in-person training to teachers, there are 575,000 primary school teachers in the country and more are needed to achieve universal primary education,” said Mark West, a UNESCO project officer involved in the training in Abuja.

Some 42 percent, or roughly 10.5 million primary age children in Nigeria, are out of school, and those girls and boys who do attend are struggling to learn basic literacy and numeracy, UNESCO said.

“The rapid uptake of mobile technology in Africa has made it realistic to reach teachers who were, practically speaking, unreachable just a few years ago. It is exciting work, and we hope the project provides a model others borrow, emulate and improve upon,” West added.

Initiatives promoting mobile learning have already been spearheaded across a wide range of countries — including Mozambique, Pakistan, South Africa, Niger, Kenya, and Mongolia — where policies have already provided access to distance education in far-flung communities and improved literacy among girls and women, the officials added.