by Dr. Christelle Scharff
This is an edited version of the blog post that was originally posted at: http://getideas.org/thought-leader/enhancing-early-childhood-education-with-mobile-phones
The number of mobile phone subscribers worldwide has doubled in the past five years. This figure is expected to approach 7 billion in 2016, with rapid, continuous growth in developing and emerging countries. With such a big established user base, do mobile phones have a crucial role for social change starting with education? We believe that there are great potential and opportunities for educators and entrepreneurs in using and developing mobile solutions and apps as educational tools. The process can start in kindergarten using feature phones!
While there’s always buzz around the latest Android devices, iPhone, or iPad, we sometime forget that the majority of mobile subscribers in the world are still using feature phones. And, despite common thinking, one can do a lot of things with only a feature phone! Many people in the developing world cannot afford, do not own, or have access to computers, but many own (feature) phones, which children already have access to from their parents or relatives. With educational apps, children can use mobile phones to learn writing, reading, counting, singing and more and also cultivate an early interest in technology. Phones and apps can be integrated into the curriculum of kindergarten classes. Who needs expensive computers that require a continuous power source when children could use phones that their parents already own?
While parents might already own the hardware, software (apps) need to developed for children, in different languages, for different learning styles, for different curricula that adhere to each country’s educational system with local content relevant to the local culture. Children are demanding users and educational apps need to be captivate them every second. This is an interesting challenge for entrepreneurs and educators. Entrepreneurs often overlook this huge, untapped market and great things can happen if they work with educators; together they can introduce technology to children, increase literacy, and possibly change the world!
One of the difficulties of distributing apps in the context of developing countries is finding ways to make it easy for users to access these apps. The app store concept is not a panacea for the developing world market, where subscribers do not have credit cards and use prepaid credit. Distribution is one of the many big problems that needs to be solved, but can be overcome if a suitable system is developed. Another difficulty is the unfamiliarity of users with apps. The term “apps” is well-known in the tech community, but how familiar is it for people in the developing and emerging markets? There is space for large education campaigns to democratize the term and teach people how to download, install and use apps.
It’s never too early for a good start in education and mobile phones may have a role to play! Entrepreneurs: Establish partnerships with educators and artists to develop education apps that can change the current situation in education. There are many opportunities in developing education apps for small children.